Sheriff announces new initiative amid 378% increase in opioid deaths 

Opioid deaths in Hennepin County have increased from 79 in 2011 to 378 in 2022.

Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt holds a press conference Thursday with families who have lost a loved one to the fentanyl crisis. (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)

Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt announced a new “Focus on Fentanyl” initiative Thursday aimed at increasing the public’s awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and connecting them with resources.

Witt, who said her own family has been impacted by the fentanyl crisis, plans to release a series of videos profiling Minnesotans who were killed by the highly potent synthetic opioid. The first video chronicles the life of Seth Carlson, a 17-year-old athlete from Bloomington who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2022.

“If your life has not been personally impacted by opioids, it’s easy to try to ignore it — ‘out of sight, out of mind,” said Sheriff Witt. “But with opioids killing more than one person every day in Hennepin County, that approach is not working.”

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker said opioid deaths in Hennepin County have increased from 79 in 2011 to 378 in 2022, a 378% increase. In that same 11-year period, fentanyl overdoses jumped from four to 358.

“We have to end the stigma around substance use. Drug use should not be a death sentence. But it is increasingly deadly due to one substance: fentanyl,” Witt said. “Our Focus on Fentanyl initiative is about letting families know that our role in addressing the opioid crisis is not just about enforcement. It isn’t about putting people in jail or criminalizing addiction. It is about preventing death and further harm to our communities.”

The DEA’s Omaha division, which covers a five-state region including Minnesota, said law enforcement seized 4.7 million lethal doses of fentanyl in 2022, which “far surpassed” 2021’s totals.

Most of the fentanyl in the U.S. is trafficked by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which mass-produce the drug at secret factories in Mexico with chemicals sourced largely from China, according to the DEA.

This is why some Republican presidential candidates, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have called for using the military to attack the cartels on Mexican soil.

“I am going to treat the Mexican drug cartels as the foreign terrorist groups that they are,” DeSantis said during a Fox News interview this week. “They’re killing tens of thousands of our fellow citizens by bringing fentanyl into this country. We’re using lethal force against the cartels.”


Anthony Gockowski

Anthony Gockowski is Editor-in-Chief of Alpha News. He previously worked as an editor for The Minnesota Sun and Campus Reform, and wrote for the Daily Caller.