Fighting opioids, meth a top priority of MacDonald

BEMIDJI -- Nearly a year after she took the reigns as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, Erica MacDonald is making sure her office is ready to handle the issues they face ahead.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, Erica MacDonald.

BEMIDJI -- Nearly a year after she took the reigns as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, Erica MacDonald is making sure her office is ready to handle the issues they face ahead.

MacDonald made a number of stops in Northern Minnesota this week, during which she met with local law enforcement, as well as tribal and county officials, speaking to a number of issues that affect those in the northland.

“For us to be effective in our mission, we have to make sure we’re working in great collaboration with our county partners,” MacDonald said. “Our office is poised in a way I don’t think we have been in history to take on the threats facing the state of Minnesota.”

MacDonald was appointed to the position of U.S. Attorney for Minnesota in May. Before that, she was a judge in Dakota County for nearly a decade. Although she may be in her first year as U.S attorney, she’s no stranger to the line of work. Earlier in her career, she worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, as well as for the District of Minnesota.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office consists of 142 employees, 62 of whom are federal prosecutors. Since taking office, MacDonald has hired more attorneys to her ranks.


After taking office, MacDonald set a number of areas for her office to focus on: guns, drugs and gangs; cyber security; issues affecting Native Americans; and child exploitation. She said many of those areas apply to the work they do in northern Minnesota.

Some of those priorities also overlap, such as the prevalence of drug abuse and violent crimes affecting Native American communities.  

“We’re seeing our reservations disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic,” MacDonald said.

As Red Lake Nation is a unique political entity, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is trying to strengthen its relationship with the tribe, she said. To accomplish that, they are in the process of creating the position of a special assistant United States attorney that would be imbedded with the tribe. Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki could not be immediately reached for comment on the new position.

There would be a similar position in the Mille Lacs reservation.

Although the opioid epidemic may disproportionately affect the tribal nations, the U.S. Attorney says substance abuse throughout the northern reaches of the state is a substantial problem, including methamphetamine coming straight from drug cartels. She said methamphetamine is the drug they see most often in their prosecutorial work.

“Out state Minnesota is being hammered by opioids and methamphetamine,” said Anders Folk, first assistant U.S. Attorney, who was traveling with MacDonald.

Because of that, MacDonald said there should be a stronger federal presence in the region. While not going into great detail, she hinted that possibly could result in the Drug Enforcement Agency establishing a presence in the Duluth area.


“That’s on the radar,” MacDonald said. “There’s an agreement that we need to have a greater federal presence here to support our county, local and tribal law enforcement.”   

Although her office is primarily known for prosecuting federal crimes, MacDonald said it’s also important to invest in other avenues of addressing the drug issues, such as treatment and prevention.  

In spite of level of attention often focused on drug issues, MacDonald emphasized that the drug epidemic shouldn’t overshadow the issue of violent crimes. While the two issues can often be related, she clarified that violent crimes should not be overshadowed.

Like the issue with drugs, MacDonald explained that violent crimes disproportionately affect the Native communities.

“Native Americans are still suffering violent crime at a rate greater than any other population,” MacDonald said. “We have got to take a stance; we have got to put resources there.”

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