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Investigators probe deadly opiate overdoses in southeast Minnesota

At least four young people have died in the past two weeks, and numerous non-fatal overdoses have been reported to law enforcement.

MANKATO, Minn. — Editors note: The video above originally aired May 3, 2021. 

Drug task force investigators are trying to trace the source of opioids that have claimed the lives of at least four young people in southeast Minnesota over the past two weeks. 

Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force (MRVDTF) Commander Lt. Jeff Wersal said at least two of the deaths, which occurred in Mankato and surrounding communities, were traced to counterfeit prescription pills made from fentanyl. The victims in the four fatal overdoses ranged in age from 18 to 24. 

Wersal said numerous non-fatal overdoses have also been reported to law enforcement between Sept. 5 and Sept. 21, and while the substance that causes the non-fatal overdoses is not often identified, task force agents have reason to believe that an opioid is involved.

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"Opioids such as heroin and fentanyl are continuing to become more prevalent in the region," Lt. Wersal wrote in a press release. "Counterfeit pills made of fentanyl are not produced professionally and the fentanyl potency of each pill can vary. In addition, all the heroin seized in the area over the last two years was found to also contain fentanyl."

The MRVDTF reminds all Minnesota residents that they need to pay attention to loved ones and intervene if opioid use is suspected, and emphasizes that there are no safe opioids that are not prescribed by a physician. 

Law enforcement professionals from Blue Earth, Nicollet, Watonwan and Martin Counties make up the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force. 

Police in St. Paul say they've seen a similar uptick in recent overdose deaths tied to opioids, with 89 deaths due to overdose reported already this year. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) more than 1,000 people died from drug overdoses statewide last year — a 27% increase from the previous year.

Overall, there was a 30% increase in overdoses nationwide in 2020.