Opinion: Michigan's made progress fighting illegal drugs

By David Hiller
It’s no secret that our state has long struggled with the issue of illegal drugs, Hiller writes.


In today’s world, it seems that we hear every day about a new technology that will change our daily lives. Any police officer will tell you just how nice it was to start scanning fingerprints and avoiding ink smudges covering our desks. We in law enforcement have benefited from all kinds of technological advancements, and they are helping us to curb substance abuse and drug production here in Michigan.

Our law enforcement community heard from many Michiganians recently during National Police Week, and while we don’t do our jobs for the praise, we know that this is a good time to reflect on some of the progress we’ve made towards combating illegal drug production and use.

It’s no secret that our state has long struggled with the issue of illegal drugs. In fact, a study recently released by Wallet Hub ranked Michigan the fourth-highest drug use state in the country. Methamphetamine especially has affected our communities in recent years, largely due to the rise of foreign imports coming from Mexican cartels.

If you’re not familiar, meth is a highly addictive stimulant, and it has wreaked havoc on our communities for quite some time. Law enforcement officials across the state are dedicated to ridding Michigan of meth, and while there is much work left to be done, we’re making strong progress towards ending local production with the help of lawmakers, communities and innovative technology.

When considering legislative steps toward solving the meth problem in 2012, Michigan state legislators wisely chose to set legal purchase limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine (PSE) that consumers could buy. PSE is an ingredient used in many of the cold and allergy medicines that we all rely on, like Sudafed or Claritin D, but unfortunately PSE can be misused by criminals to make meth. By putting limits on the amount individuals can buy, legislators effectively put a giant roadblock in the way of criminals seeking to “cook” meth out of their homes or garages, and it’s working.

In addition to purchase limits, we in law enforcement have the advantage of a technology called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), which allows us to track PSE sales and track down those who try to exceed the limit, in addition to giving us the valuable information we need to ensure that meth cooks are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. NPLEx has helped law enforcement officers across the state to make a major dent in local meth production, especially in Southwest Michigan, where there has been a drop in meth lab seizures of nearly 75 percent from 2015 to 2017. Combined with sensible lawmaking, technologies like NPLEx are making our job easier every day. Now, we’re able to direct our attention to stopping Mexican meth from infiltrating our state.  

This issue has rallied communities across the state. Led by Attorney General Bill Schuette, the retail and pharmacy communities, along with lawmakers, have launched a campaign to stop the practice of “smurfing,” which involves criminals attempting to bypass individual PSE limits by recruiting others to purchase it for them. The campaign has been effective in educating Michigan residents on the dangers and consequences of smurfing – which can include fines, jail time and even a criminal record for people helping to purchase PSE for meth cooks – and the campaign is helping us close this loophole for criminals.

National Police Week is a gesture that does not go unnoticed by law enforcement officials; we love to hear from our communities and we’re appreciative of the support we’ve been shown. The battle against substance abuse, and meth use specifically, is an uphill one, but thanks to the backing of lawmakers, the technologies that have been made available to us and the crucial contributions being made by Michigan communities, we have a viable path forward.

David Hiller is executive director of the Michigan Fraternal Order of Police.