Drugs are top problem in Dakota County felony prosecutionArea News
-- The problem is a large one here and throughout the state and the nation.
By: Jane Lightbourn, Pierce County Herald
The problem is a large one here and throughout the state and the nation.
The number of drug-related offenses continues to represent the largest category of cases charged by the Dakota County Attorney’s Office.
In 2011, the total number of defendants charged with drug offenses represented about 24 percent of the entire felony caseload of the attorney’s office. A total of 403 individuals were charged with felony drug offenses in 2011, compared with 395 in 2010.
“It is a huge problem,” said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. “Then, too, if you consider some of the crimes such as burglaries and thefts, crimes of violence which are drug-related, it’s probably 35 to 40 percent of the felonies we prosecute. It is an alarming statistic.”
While the methamphetamine-related crimes continue to be the number one illegal drug involved in criminal charges, the number of people charged with meth-related crimes decreased slightly from 2010.
Meth-related offenses decreased from 168 individuals charged in 2010 to 156 individuals charged in 2011. One meth lab was seized in 2011, compared to none in 2010.
Cocaine charges remained the same – 88, while heroin increased from 21 charged to 39 charged in 2011.
Marijuana decreased slightly, from 105 defendants charged in 2010 to 102 in 2011. However, one case involved the seizure of almost 400 pounds of marijuana in Inver Grove Heights, one of the largest seizures of marijuana in the county’s history.
One of the biggest areas of concern for his office and law enforcement officials is the misuse and abuse of prescription medications, said Backstrom.
“From our information, we’re learning that 70 percent of teens report it is easy to obtain prescription medicines from their family medicine cabinets,” he said. “This is a growing problem.”
Teens are abusing prescription drugs because they believe that the medications are safer to use than illicit drugs, there are fewer stigmas attached to using them, there are fewer side effects and parents do not care as much if the youth gets caught. The beliefs are misguided, said Backstrom. Misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is dangerous, can have deadly consequences and is illegal.
Working together, Backstrom, Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows, law enforcement officials, public health and environmental managers joined in 2011 to make it easier to dispose of unwanted, unused or expired prescription and over-the-counter medications. Drive-up disposal sites are now located at the Law Enforcement Center in Hastings, the Burnsville Police Department and the West St. Paul Police Department for the safe disposal of prescriptions and medication no longer needed.
The Dakota County Drug Task Force, consisting of officers from the Sheriff’s Department and the police departments in Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Farmington, Hastings, Inver Grove Heights, Lakeville, Mendota Heights, Rosemount, South St. Paul, West Paul and Savage, continues to have a strong role in reducing drug crimes and working in prevention activities.
“This coordinated law enforcement efforts is extremely effective in combating illegal drug activity,” said Backstrom. “The Dakota County Drug Task Force, which relies heavily on federal grant funding, is vital in getting illegal drugs off the streets.”
Jane Lightbourn is a staff writer for the Hastings Star Gazette.