U.S. attorneys map out ways to fight heroin, pill abuse

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Michigan is a pipeline for illegal drugs and prescription opioids that feeds the Midwest and law enforcement officials from neighboring states are developing a strategy to fight the growing problem.

Calling the illegal drug trade an epidemic, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade of Michigan and attorneys general and other law enforcement officials from six neighboring states were to meet Wednesday for a one-day anti-trafficking summit.

“We know in Michigan that we’ve seen a huge spike in prescription pill abuse and then we’ve also seen a serious resurgence in heroin as addicts turn to that as a cheaper alternative for their opioid addiction,” McQuade said. “So, that has resulted in some various significant problems in Michigan and we seem to exporting our problems to other states.”

Among the strategies discussed publicly were a setting aside a day to turn in unused drugs, targeting drug cartels, sharing information and going after dealers who supply drugs that lead to overdose deaths.

The one-day summit Wednesday is part of an initiative by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program to stamp out the trafficking by organized groups and others who move heroin and prescription pills from Michigan and Ohio into states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“We want to target the cartels that are sending those drugs through our districts. We want to talk about how we can better share information,” McQuade said.

More than 60 people have died as a result of heroin and Fentanyl overdoses in Wayne County while the number of heroin overdoses in Oakland County doubled from 2013 to 2014, local officials say. Opioid deaths in the Midwest have increased 62 percent recently.

An addiction to prescription pills could cost users up $200 a day, authorities say.

U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey of the Eastern District of Kentucky said Fentanyl, a powerful pain medication often prescribed for cancer patients, is used to “cut” other drugs without the user knowing it.

Federal officials are planning a national “Take Back Day” where individuals can take unused prescription medicine, such as narcotic painkillers Vicodin and Oxycodone, to local police departments to avoid the pills ending up in the wrong hands, summit participants said.

Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney from the Eastern District of Tennessee, said about 10 percent of people who use Hydrocodone will become addicted to it.

“We’re talking about a highly addictive substance,” Killian said Wednesday. “It transcends all demographics of our society.”

McQuade said when her teenage son saw a doctor for an injury she refused to fill a prescription for Oxycodone, a popular narcotic pain medication.

McQuade said the groups that are part of the pipeline of illegal prescription pills go to other states because they feel threatened by other drug gangs operating in the Metro Detroit area.

Steve Dettelbach, the U.S Attorney from the Northern District of Ohio, said enforcement and arrests of the organized groups who are peddling the prescription pills and heroin “are a key part of the response to this.”

McQuade said prevention is also a part of the strategies to attacking the problem.

“The epidemic of overdose deaths from heroin and prescription pill abuse is startling and needs to be met with an intense response by law enforcement,” she said. “This summit is intended to strengthen and better coordinate our efforts to disrupt heroin and pill trafficking across the region. We also seek to raise public awareness about addiction, treatment and prevention.”


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