LINCOLN — Drug “mules” have had a rough time on Nebraska roadways in recent months.

This year has been a banner year for drug seizures on state highways and freeways, state officials announced Thursday.

More than 8,200 pounds of marijuana and 136 pounds of the powerful opioid fentanyl have been confiscated by the Nebraska State Patrol so far this year.

The busts most likely saved lives, especially when it comes to more deadly drugs like fentanyl, officials said at a press conference.

“When the Nebraska State Patrol takes these dangerous drugs off the streets, they are keeping our people here safe and people in other states safe as well,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said.

The marijuana seized was the most since 2006, and the fentanyl total set a state record, up from 41 pounds in 2017. Confiscations of methamphetamine, hash and heroin were also up in 2018, each topping previous highs set since 2001.

Col. John Bolduc, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, said the busts don’t necessarily mean that there are more drugs on the streets but that troopers are working harder to interdict drugs being hauled across Nebraska by couriers, also known as “mules.”

Bolduc said some of the busts involved pot produced legally in states like Colorado that was diverted to the black market. Other drugs were produced illegally for illegal sales, he said.

The busts contributed to a 30 percent increase in felony arrests by the patrol this year, Bolduc said.

Some of the eye-opening busts on Nebraska roadways this year were:

» More than 1,850 pounds of marijuana and other drugs seized in April in a traffic stop on Highway 81 in Fillmore County.

» A man arrested at an Omaha commercial transportation business in July who had heroin strapped to his torso and in a suitcase. Troopers and Douglas County sheriff’s deputies confiscated 11 pounds.

» 117 pounds of cocaine and suspected fentanyl found in a semitrailer truck in May in a stop on Interstate 80 near Kearney.

» More than 1,600 pounds of edible marijuana products, THC wax and marijuana in a traffic stop on I-80 near Milford in October.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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