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Updated: Seven charged in Cloquet drug investigation

Seven people were charged with selling drugs - mostly methodone - after a four-month-long investigation culminated in their arrest Monday. The following people were charged as a result of an interagency investigation into the illicit sales of pre...

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Seven people were charged with selling drugs - mostly methodone - after a four-month-long investigation culminated in their arrest Monday.

The following people were charged as a result of an interagency investigation into the illicit sales of prescription liquid methadone, methadone pills, oxycodone, and heroin:

Susan Fredonia Topping, 52, of Cloquet , was charged with felony first-degree sale of a controlled substance (methadone).

Richard Joseph McDonald, 42, of Duluth, was charged with felony third-degree sale of a controlled substance (methadone).

Desiree Frances Houle, 25, of Cloquet, was charged with felony third-degree sale of a controlled substance (methadone).

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Michelle Renae Granholm, 29, of Cloquet, was charged with felony third-degree sale of a controlled substance and second- and fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance (methadone).

Michael Lee King, 36, of Cloquet, was charged with felony third-degree sale of a controlled substance (methadone)

Derrick Joseph Jason Holm, 22, of Cloquet, was charged with felony third-degree sale of a controlled substance (heroin).

Shawn Elson Randall, 30, of Cloquet, was charged with felony third-degree sale of a controlled substance (Tylenol with codeine).

The investigation began after police learned one woman, Susan Topping, was allegedly selling large amounts of her own prescription methadone pills.

Methadone, a drug available since the 1960s and deemed by the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control as "the most effective treatment for opiate addiction," is in essence a risk-versus-reward system.

Proponents say it's better to have addicts of drugs such as heroin and Oxycontin hooked and functioning on methadone -- itself a strong, risky narcotic -- than to be breaking laws to get a fix. Methadone treatment has become a thriving industry, with half of the patients in Minnesota on some sort of public assistance to pay for the care.

And yet some of the methadone paid for by public money and used to treat patients is sold on the streets, where dealers can get hundreds of dollars a dose, according to an investigative series published earlier this year by the Duluth News Tribune.

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According to the criminal complaint for Topping:

The undercover investigation began in August after Cloquet detectives learned that an individual, identified as Susan Topping, was "routinely selling her methadone pills in the community."

Over the next 90 days, the undercover informant made 14 different purchases from Topping, which added up to a total of 213 methadone pills.

Topping had been prescribed methadone locally, according to a Cloquet police detective, who noted that King was the only person getting his methadone from the Lake Superior Treatment Center in Duluth.

Topping was the only person charged with first-degree sale of drugs, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years for a first violation. The third-degree charges have a maximum sentence of up to 20 years for a first offense.

Although Cloquet took the lead in the investigation, Deputy Police Chief Terry Hill said they were successful thanks to assistance and support of the Duluth Police Department and Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force - which provided an undercover agent who purchased a controlled substances from multiple suspects in the Cloquet area - as well as the Carlton County Sheriff's Office, Fond du Lac Police Department and the Carlton County Attorneys' Office.

Bail for Topping was set at $75,000 or $7,500 cash; she has an omnibus hearing set for Dec. 26. King, McDonald, Granholm and Houle are also scheduled for hearings Dec. 26 in Carlton County Court. Information on Holm was not available at presstime and Randall is not in custody and a warrant has been issued for his arrest, according to a press release issued by the Cloquet Police Department.

The Duluth News Tribune contributed to this report.

Related Topics: CRIME
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