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Minnesota law enforcement reported the biggest rise in fentanyl pill seizures among the five Midwestern states in its federal field division last year, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said Wednesday.

Seizures of the potentially deadly opiate, increasingly found pressed into counterfeit pills, jumped 127% in the state up from 2022 as investigators recovered more than 417,000 pills.

That's more than Iowa, both the Dakotas and Nebraska — Minnesota's fellow offices within the DEA's Omaha-headquartered division. The increase reflected a trend in which the DEA said the five states recorded an 83% spike in fentanyl pill seizures.

"It's a dire situation," said Rafael Mattei, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA's Minneapolis-St. Paul District Office, in an interview Wednesday. "These numbers are staggeringly going up, there are no plateaus, no holds."

The DEA said law enforcement seized more than 77 million fentanyl pills and nearly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl nationally last year.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Minnesota recently announced the biggest fentanyl bust in state history when it rolled out an indictment against six people accused of trafficking hundreds of thousands of pills from Arizona, using the mail to send toy animals stuffed with pills in an alleged conspiracy dating back to 2022. In November, federal authorities charged two Arizona suppliers of fentanyl linked to Minneapolis street gangs as part of an indictment that yielded 11.6 kilograms of seized fentanyl pills.

Mattei attributed the ongoing rise in fentanyl pills being seized to aggressive law enforcement investigations. The climbing seizure numbers are occurring in concert with a yearly drop in suspected overdose deaths being reported by Minnesota health officials: 966 Minnesotans died last year of suspected overdose deaths, down from 1198 last year and 1,380 in 2021.

"I think we are doing something," Mattei said. "At least this is hopeful."

Minnesota recorded the largest increase in pill seizures. Iowa followed suit, noting a 105 percent increase over its 2022 pill seizures, with more than 141,000 pills seized in 2023. North Dakota pill seizures increased nearly 50 percent, while Nebraska and South Dakota numbers declined.

"Sadly, none of these communities are exempt from the tragic consequences that can come from experimenting with or using fentanyl," Special Agent in Charge Steven Bell of the DEA's Omaha Division said in a statement announcing the data on Wednesday. "This drug is potentially lethal in such a small amount that it can fit on the tip of a pencil."

Law enforcement officials say fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 through 45. And it's reportedly growing more potent. Last year, DEA lab testing found that 7 of 10 pills tested contained a possible deadly dose of fentanyl, which the DEA defines as 2 milligrams. That rate was at 40% just two years before and 60% in 2022.

Mattei added Wednesday that methamphetamine seizures in Minnesota have hovered at or above 900 pounds in each of the past two years and that the state notched a massive spike in cocaine seizures last year with 345 pounds of the drug being recovered, up from 69 pounds in 2022.