Whether it’s meth, heroin, or even prescription opioids, it’s not easy to track where illegal drug use stems from.
Frank Hodak, a deputy sheriff in Cerro Gordo County, spends much of his job investigating drug cases. He said in a joint interview in December with Sheriff Kevin Pals and Chief Deputy Dave Hepperly that meth is still the drug of choice locally, coming mostly through distribution channels from the Mexican cartel. His theory on why opioid abuse isn’t as prominent in North Iowa versus other parts of the country boils down to geography.
“The opiate crisis is kind of moving in from coast to coast, toward the Midwest,” Hodak said. “And I think that since we’re the last area that it’s coming to, to touch, then the general public is behind on what goes on.”
It’s evident, however, that officials know how many prescription painkillers are on the streets. Throughout the nine-county task force, there are numerous “take-back” locations where the public can anonymously drop off unwanted medication. At the Mason City Police department, technician Tammy Orr said the department collects up to 20 pounds of medication in a few weeks. Beaver, the Mitchell County sheriff, said he gathers 40 to 50 pounds a month. Wright, the Osage police chief, added his department gets around 30 pounds a month.
Whatever doesn’t fall into those drop boxes, though, stays on the streets. The accessibility of these drugs concerns officials, and usually, the only way to get them off the streets is to talk to users and people involved in drug rings to try to obtain information.
Sometimes, however, sources can be misleading.
“I think that my overwhelming thought when we’re dealing with these people is we expect to be screwed over by them,” Chief Deputy Dave Hepperly said about drug investigations. “And I guess you feel better when it doesn’t happen.”
And while officials said painkiller abuse often stems from an excess of prescriptions after surgeries and “doctor shopping” across state lines, heroin comes from numerous places throughout the region: Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Rochester, Albert Lea, Waterloo and other locations.
The issue is finding those drug dealers isn’t easy, said Pals, the Cerro Gordo County sheriff.
"The way we step to those people is through the general users. That’s how you get to the big dogs,” Pals said. “You can’t just go up to them because they’ve got levels … some of the old-time drug dealers in North Iowa haven’t been caught."