Opioid, drug unit making strides after one year

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on Wednesday released an update on the Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction one year after it was announced. The unit was created to help local communities prosecute cases involving large amounts or delivery of heroin or other opioid-based drug crimes from across Michigan.

Since it was created the unit has investigated and prosecuted cases from 23 Michigan counties. The unit has received 66 cases. Eighteen of those cases has resulted in a conviction. Twelve cases have charges pending and 25 are still under investigation. Of the 66 cases referred to the unit only 11 have resulted in no charges. Three of the convictions have been for delivery of opioids causing death.

“The opioid epidemic is not something we can arrest our way out of, but it is paramount that if we can do something to reduce the amount of available opioids we do,” said Schuette. “The goal of this unit when it was created was to help local communities tackle the supply of this issue. I want to thank Genesee Prosecutor David Leyton for his partnership on this project. We are making an impact and I know that this unit will continue to have a positive impact moving forward.”

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton helped announce the creation of the unit one year ago and has been extremely supportive of the project moving forward.

“This epidemic has hit Michigan communities hard; the battle hasn’t been easy and it certainly isn’t over,” said Leyton. “With 66 cases and 18 convictions, I’d say we are moving in the right direction, however we must continue working to put dealers in prison and get these dangerous opioids off the streets.”  

Part of Schuette’s Criminal Division, the Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit is comprised of four assistant attorneys general, each with extensive backgrounds in drug crime prosecution.

The cases have been and will continue to be charged in cooperation with local law enforcement, Michigan State Police narcotics teams and federal agencies.

The unit will also continue to take on felony murder cases in which it is alleged that the delivery of opioids has caused death.

Schuette was the chair of the Regulation, Enforcement, and Policy Subcommittee for the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Taskforce, which recommended a multi-faceted public awareness campaign be undertaken to inform the public of the dangers of abuse, how to safeguard and properly dispose of medicines, publicize improper prescribing practices, and reduce the stigma of addiction. The taskforce also recommended additional training for law enforcement in the area of recognizing and dealing with addiction for those officers who do not deal directly with narcotics regularly.

In 2015, almost 2,000 Michiganders died of overdoses, mostly from opioids, up more than 25 percent from just two years before.

Michigan’s Automated Prescription System reported more than 21 million prescriptions for controlled substances written in 2014, an increase of roughly more than four million prescriptions since 2007.

Opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers and heroin, killed over 33,000 people in the United States in 2015, more than any year on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Michigan ranks tenth nationally per capita for opioid-based prescriptions, and 18th for overdose deaths.