New unit focuses on prosecuting crimes involving opiate-based drugs

By David Eggert
Associated Press

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) — A new Michigan unit is prosecuting crimes involving heroin and other opioid-based drugs as the state confronts an overdose epidemic that claimed almost 2,000 lives in 2015, Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday.

The four-person Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit in Schuette’s office is designed to help local authorities target the supply of prescription drugs from dealers and doctors who are overprescribing. It was quietly launched in the fall and has netted six convictions. Fifteen other people are facing charges.

“It crosses the entire spectrum of our society. It really spares no one,” Schuette said of opioid abuse during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, where he was flanked by Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton — his opponent in the 2010 election — and Schuette’s chief deputy Matthew Schneider.

Schneider said the attorney general’s office historically has partnered with county prosecutors on cold case investigations, murder probes and appellate cases.

“We are now reaching out on opioids, drug abuse cases. We’ve never done that before,” he said.

The unit cooperates with local, state and federal authorities and focuses on major cases that cross state or county lines and involve high volumes of heroin and other opioid-based drugs. The unit plans to use what Schneider said is an underutilized law that allows murder charges against people who deliver drugs that cause someone to die.

Also Wednesday, Schuette — who said he visited a treatment center last week to meet with recovering addicts — amplified his recent request that the Legislature direct $859,000 from a settlement with a pharmaceutical company toward public awareness programs that target prescription drug abuse and highlight addiction treatment. Two-thirds of people abusing prescription opioids are getting the drugs from their friends or family, according to Schuette’s office.

Schuette is expected to run for governor in 2018.