Fentanyl pipeline from Detroit leads to jump in drug seizures in Dakotas, Minnesota

The Drug Enforcement Administration said it collected 900 grams of fentanyl in North Dakota last year, up from zero in 2019. Officials say that is linked to a Detroit pipeline leading dealers to Minnesota and the Dakotas.

These M30 pills, which have been sold as Oxycodone by drug dealers, contain fentanyl that could be lethal to those who consume them, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Contributed photo

FARGO — The Dakotas and Minnesota saw a significant jump last year in the amount of fentanyl federal agents seized, a trend one official said is connected to a Detroit-linked pipeline of drugs that has caused a rise in overdoses.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said it confiscated 900 grams of fentanyl in North Dakota last year, up from zero in 2019. They also seized 6,000 pills last year that were billed as Oxycodone but likely contained fentanyl.

DEA agents in South Dakota seized 312.1 grams of fentanyl last year, a significant jump from 44 grams in 2019. In Minnesota, agents pulled 6.2 kilograms of fentanyl off the black market, which would equal three million lethal doses, according to a news release.

That was a 30% increase from 2019, the DEA said.



One kilogram is enough to make 500,000 lethal doses, the DEA said.
The rise in fentanyl seizures coincides with an uptick in overdoses and drug trafficking to Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, DEA spokeswoman Emily Murray said. Most of the fentanyl coming into the U.S. is coming from Mexico, she said.

The flow to the Dakotas and Minnesota is being trafficked from dealers in Detroit, she added.

The pandemic slowed trafficking because of lockdowns, but dealers got drugs out in larger quantities once those restrictions were lifted, Murray said.

Some are combining fentanyl with other drugs or marketing fentanyl pills as Oxycodone. That results in the buyer not realizing they bought a potentially lethal drug before they overdose.

“The people making these counterfeit pills are by no means careful in their measurements,” DEA Omaha Division Special Agent in Charge Justin C. King said in a statement. “While one pill from a single batch may contain 1 milligram of fentanyl, another may contain a lethal dose.”

A lethal dose of fentanyl is equal to 2 milligrams, which is the same amount of a few grains of salt depicted next to this penny. Drug Enforcement Administration Photo

Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the DEA. Humans can die from 2 milligrams of fentanyl, which is equivalent to a few grains of salt. More than 26% of the pills found in 2019 across the U.S. contained lethal doses, the DEA said.


Detroit drug groups are targeting Native American reservations since they are often home to more people who suffer from drug addiction, officials said. Dealers know they can mark up the prices on fentanyl pills for those desperate enough to spend more — a $2 pill can go for $80, Murray said.

This year could bring even higher numbers for seizures, she said. Agents in Minnesota seized 21,000 pills in one 10-week span this year, she noted.

“We’ve got a Detroit pipeline,” she said. “We’ve seen that people have picked up on this addiction, and they are getting their, in this case, pills out to North Dakota, and oftentimes onto the reservations because the addiction is so strong in some of those places.”

North Dakota lost 106 people to drug overdoses last year, according to preliminary numbers from the state Health Department. That’s up from 74 deaths in 2019 and 66 in 2018.

In Minnesota, 490 people died from an overdose in the first half of 2020, already surpassing the 2019 count of 428, the state Health Department said.

Local law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in North Dakota has raised the alarm regarding that Detroit pipeline. In Fargo, 91 people overdosed in 2020, and 18 of them died. That’s up from the total 2019 overdoses of 36, including 11 deaths.

Most of those deaths have been connected to synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl.

Other synthetic drugs have been on the rise for many years, but the numbers do present some good news, said Nick Chase, acting U.S. attorney for North Dakota. Law enforcement learned where the drugs are coming from, who the ringleaders are and how to interrupt those drug supplies, he said.


He acknowledged law enforcement aren't getting all of the drugs, but they are improving.

"We are interrupting the pipeline before it gets to the end user," he said.

The DEA, U.S. Attorney’s Offices and local law enforcement have made efforts to educate the public on the dangers of buying drugs on the streets illegally as they try to clamp down on drug trafficking by going after ring leaders.

“If you are purchasing something off the street, it's not going to be a legitimate prescription nine times out of 10, and it’s probably even greater than that,” Murray said. “It’s like playing Russian roulette. You just don’t know what you’re going to get out of those pills.”

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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