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North Dakota law enforcement shifts focus to a growing opiate crisis

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This article has been updated to reflect the following: The State Health Lab is under the North Dakota Dept. of Health, and processes health-related samples, including coronavirus tests.  The State Crime Lab, under the Attorney General’s office, processes evidence related to crimes, including drug offenses. The State Crime Lab does not process coronavirus samples for the state Health Lab.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the North Dakota Attorney General told KX News that the amount of meth seized so far in 2020 puts the state on pace to break an unfortunate record.

While getting meth off of the streets is still important to the Attorney General’s Office, right now law enforcement is focusing on something else.

As one Narcotics Task Force Agent with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation says they’re focusing on the drugs with the highest death toll.

We kept the agent anonymous for his safety.

He shared, “We have to decide what is the greatest danger to our community, and just in Mandan alone in the first two weeks of lockdown, I went to seven overdoses. They didn’t all die, but seven overdoses is a lot in a short period of time. And those are all caused by the opiate trade that’s happening here.”

The anonymous Task Force Agent says opiates are the most dangerous drugs on the streets of North Dakota.

“Yeah… our numbers are, as far as heroin and opiates go, are through the roof. I mean they double or triple or quadruple every year. When we used to see only a couple of grams of heroin maybe 10 years ago, we’re now seizing in the pound level. And when you think of a usage amount for heroin, it’s usually about a .10 grams. And that’s what’s flooding our streets right now,” he explained.

And that’s just heroin. Fentanyl, Carfentanil, and prescription pills are also on the rise. He tells KX News while the number of drug offenses, overall, decreased by over 6 percent in 2019 from the previous year, the task force is confiscating bigger quantities at once.

“Wayne Stenehjem and the BCI– we’re trying to work smarter, not harder. You take basically experts in the field and you do direct targeting of drug traffickers,” the anonymous agent said.

Meaning BCI agents across the state, as opposed to having each law enforcement agency focus on drug crimes separately.

“You can look at the concept of drug dealing as a supply-and-demand-type model. And the demand part is our local people who are suffering through addictions,” he said.

“What we’re really trying to do is go after the people who are dealing the drugs, and bringing it in, in large quantities, addicting our citizens and running the risk of killing them,” added North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

“Much like the coronavirus they say one, you know, one person can infect five other people. Well, one drug dealer can infect five other people with an addiction that could last them a lifetime,” the Task Force Agent said.

Ultimately, the agent reminds us, addiction can overcome any one of us.

“People like to have a narrative in their head of what a drug user is. But when it comes to opiates, I’ve been to overdoses of people who had 6-figure jobs, and all the way down to the poorest people in our community. It doesn’t matter,” he explained.

And avoiding lifetimes spent in recovery, and many deaths is why this is North Dakota law enforcement’s top priority.

In reference to the AG’s crime report, the Task Force Agent tells me 2019 was a relatively average year for drug arrests and seizures.

He says 2020’s report will likely look a little different because the virus has cut down the number of agents on the street, the amount of contact the officers are making with the public.

So why the increase in opiates on the street? Where are they coming from?

Our anonymous BCI Agent says, primarily Detroit, Michigan in the last couple of years.

He says the Bismarck-Mandan area is the hub for these traffickers, which then feed into Tribal lands. And in a single drug deal, these guys can easily take home $7,000.

But, it’s millions that are actually being sent back to Detroit, and BCI Narcotics Task Force Agents are running into Detroit dealers every day.

“One drug trafficker, he explained to me that he actually preferred selling drugs in North Dakota over Detroit, because the people here were nicer to him. They always paid their debts. They let them stay at their place, and he wasn’t fearful about doing a drug deal in Bismarck because he knew it was going to go well, because we’re ‘North Dakota nice’. In Detroit, you can get robbed on a drug deal, or shot, so he preferred dealing here,” the Task Force Agent shared.

Just in June, in Bismarck alone, the task force indicted more than 30 members of Detroit-based gangs, dealing drugs.

Seeing how drug dealers will always be around, the agent says the best solution is to keep improving addiction services across the state.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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