Drug abuse is both a public safety and public health challenge in Minnesota. In 2014, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota brought 17 indictments for heroin trafficking, which included 50 individual defendants. In 2015, we have filed eight indictments representing 58 defendants charged with trafficking heroin and other illicit drugs. We are working with our partners in State and Federal law enforcement, including at the Minnesota Bureau for Criminal Apprehension and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to slow the flow of heroin into Minnesota from other places.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse at the NIH, nearly 670,000 Americans reported using heroin in 2012. In the Twin Cities Metro Area in 2014, there were at least 80 heroin overdose deaths. That number indicates a decline of seven percent since 2013. While heroin deaths are on the decline, prescription opioid abuse presents a similar public safety risk.
Prescription painkillers are the most common illicit drug for first-time users, after marijuana, with 17% of drug users identifying a prescription drug as their first illicit drug experience. Recent research suggests that abuse of prescription medications may lead to heroin use. This is one of the reasons that this office is also aggressively investigating and prosecuting cases of prescription drug diversion. Prescription diversion occurs when people steal or fraudulently obtain otherwise legal prescription drugs. Prescription opioids are the most commonly diverted type of drug.
Some of the cases we have successfully prosecuted include:
- On June 4, 2015, Albert Ellis was sentenced to 322 months in prison for possession with intent to distribute heroin. After Duluth Police responded to a domestic disturbance, Ellis’ car was searched and heroin was discovered hidden in the gas cap. A loaded firearm was found hidden in the engine block of the vehicle and Ellis was later arrested with more than $6,000 worth of illegal drugs.
- Omar Beasley was charged on May 28, 2015, with leading a drug trafficking conspiracy in which he recruited drug sources, managers, distributors, facilitators, couriers and drivers to bring heroin and other drugs to Indian Reservations in Minnesota and North Dakota. Between April 2014 and April 2015, the defendants conspired with each other to distribute multiple kilograms of heroin, as well as methamphetamine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and methadone to the communities in and surrounding the Red Lake and White Earth Indian Reservations. As part of the drug trafficking conspiracy, Beasley traveled from Minneapolis, Minn. to Red Lake, Minn., White Earth, Minn., and to North Dakota to provide drugs to co-conspirators for distribution on the Indian Reservations. Beasley would then return to major cities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan to replenish the supply of drugs to bring into Indian Country.
- Dr. Blair Nelson pleaded guilty on July 29, 2015, to writing and filling fraudulent prescriptions for opioids. Nelson wrote prescription in the names of his family and friends and attempted to fill them at various pharmacies in Minnesota and North Dakota. Between May 2013 and September 2014, Dr. Nelson attempted to obtain fraudulently at least 1,730 prescription pills.
- Nanci Mae Dusso pleaded guilty on April 9, 2015, to obtaining prescription opioids by fraud and social security fraud. Between January 2013 and November 2013, Dusso used at least 31 aliases to obtain or attempt to obtain prescription opioids from healthcare providers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. She commonly used out-of-state identities when visiting health care providers, often employed a story in which she complained of shoulder pain, and indicated that she was visiting a family member suffering from cancer. If Dusso successfully convinced a health care provider to prescribe medication, a physical therapy or pain management appointment would also be arranged for her. However, the defendant did not attend these appointments.
- Anissa Shores pleaded guilty on October 28, 2014, to stealing approximately 67,000 doses of opioids and other substances. Shores stole from the Burnsville, Minn., pharmacy where she was employed and responsible for maintaining accurate inventory logs of controlled substances. She falsified the pharmacy’s written and computer logs, making it appear that the pharmacy received smaller quantities of the drugs than had actually been received. She then stole the quantity of controlled substances that had been omitted from the logbooks for her own use and benefit.