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Sheriff: Methamphetamine is the drug of choice in Freeborn Co.

A variety of illegal drugs are being used in Freeborn County, according to Sheriff Kurt Freitag. Local law enforcement and other professionals are working toward making that reality an issue of the past.

Methamphetamine remains the drug of choice, according to Freitag, because of its availability and cost.

Freitag said that methamphetamine poses special challenges for the community.

“We’ve all seen the destruction meth causes,” Freitag said. “All drugs are bad, but with meth people will do anything to make sure they have the next hit. It’s extremely addictive and people can be addicted to methamphetamine after a weekend of using it for the first time.”

He said methamphetamine is primarily being smoked but some people are shooting it up through needles. A vast majority of the methamphetamine in Freeborn County is originating from Mexico on Interstate 35, he said.

“If you have any interstate running through the county, drugs will be coming through as well,” Freitag said.

He said meth labs that used to be commonplace in Freeborn County have been taken over by illegal drug manufacturing in Mexico with higher purity levels. According to Freitag, methamphetamine has been an issue for Freeborn County for the last couple of decades. Heroin and synthetic marijuana use are also on the rise in Freeborn County, according to Freitag.

He said the illegal drugs that are prevalent in Freeborn County are ever-evolving. He said there are new types of drugs, including hybrid drugs, and the purity of drugs has also increased, leading to a greater risk of overdose and addiction.

For Freeborn County’s contribution to fighting drugs, the county will send a deputy to a drug interdiction school called “Desert Snow.” The department is going to dedicate a part of that deputy’s shift to patrol on the interstates to try to find illegal drugs through drug interdiction there.

Freitag said there is one full-time deputy from his department who is on the South Central Drug Investigation Unit.

“The members on the task force have no shortage of work,” he said. “They do a good job, and we’re proud of their accomplishments.”

To be more effective in drug investigations, Freitag said law enforcement across the board could use more personnel and funding, but he said the deputies do the best they can with the funding they have.

According to the Minnesota Department of Department Safety data on arrests made in Freeborn County for drug abuse, 178 drug abuse arrests were made in 2014. Nine were reported in the opium/cocaine category, four arrests were reported for synthetic drugs, 81 for marijuana, and 84 were for other drugs, including methamphetamine. Of the arrests, 112 were male and 66 were female.

In 2013, 165 narcotics arrests were made by the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and Albert Lea Police Department combined. In 2012, 180 narcotics arrests were made by the two departments.

Albert Lea Police Department numbers for drug abuse have fluctuated over the last three years. Police made 108 drug abuse arrests in 2014. According to the data, three were in the category of opium/cocaine, etc., 64 were for marijuana and 41 were for other drugs. Other drugs includes methamphetamine. Sixty-eight were female, and 40 were female.

In 2013, 94 narcotics arrests were made by the department. In 2012, 106 narcotics arrests were made.

At the school level, Freeborn County students have decreased their use of drugs and alcohol and are less likely to use alcohol and drugs than the average school district in Minnesota, according to a Freeborn County Partners in Prevention survey. The PRIDE surveys that included 1,165 Freeborn County students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades showed the following:

• 7.5 percent of students in the 2014-15 school year said they had tried cigarettes in the last 30 days, compared to 11.6 percent in 2012-13.

• 12.7 percent reported they had tried alcohol in the last 30 days, compared to 16.1 percent in 2012-13.

• 8.1 percent said they had tried marijuana in the last 30 days, compared to 11.2 percent in 2012-13.

• 4.1 percent of students said they had tried prescription drugs in the last 30 days, compared to 5.8 percent in 2012-13.

“Keeping those numbers low is important, because there are health concerns that come with abuse,” said Lana Howe, facilitator for Freeborn County Partners in Prevention. “Even though our numbers are at a lower rate, there are still issues that we as a coalition are addressing.”

Howe stressed that addiction is a disease.

Howe said community prevention efforts may have played into the lower numbers, but she doesn’t have a definitive answer. The coalition aims to have the study done every other year.

Students listed many reasons for trying drugs or alcohol, including peer pressure, stress, depression, anxiety, being lonely, the desire to fit in, problems at home or body image.

For the next five years, Freeborn County Partners in Prevention will focus on prevention and continue working on decreasing drug use among students.

Howe said anyone in the community who wants to address the drug issues they are seeing is welcome to attend the Freeborn County Partners in Prevention meeting that takes place from 9 to 10:30 a.m. the first Thursday of every month at the Freeborn County Courthouse.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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