Opioid drug unit tackling supply of deadly drugs in Michigan


Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that his new Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit is now fully operational and is prosecuting or has convicted more than a dozen individuals for cases involving large amounts or delivery of heroin or other opioid-based drug crimes from across Michigan.

Schuette announced the new unit Wednesday at a roundtable on Mackinac Island in conjunction with Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton and Chief Deputy Attorney General Matthew Schneider.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem, but we can reduce the amount of heroin and other opioids available in Michigan and the Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit will do just that,” said Schuette. “Those caught in this addiction cycle are the victims of this disease caused by opioids, a powerful pull to not necessarily feel good, but to not feel bad. My goal with the Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit is to cut off the supply of heroin and pills, and give law enforcement the chance to prosecute the players who continue to provide toxic drugs Michigan residents every day.”

“I have talked to those in the grips of this terrible crisis.  They may have started using medication because of a physical injury, or an emotional one,” said Schuette.  “In either situation, they need our help.”   

During the roundtable, Leyton commented on the high rate of opioid abuse and addiction in Genesee County and said he is working with local schools to increase the awareness of the dangers of opioids. 

“Heroin and other opioid-based drugs are incredibly destructive. You better not be selling it or running it through my county, or the law is going to come down on you,” said Leyton. “In Genesee County, we face an uphill battle unless we can cut off the source and demand for these drugs. I applaud the attorney general for taking this step to cut off the source of these drugs through aggressive prosecution.”

Facts and Details About the Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit

Part of Schuette’s Criminal Division, the Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit is comprised of four assistant attorneys general, each with backgrounds in drug crime prosecution. The unit will focus on cases that cross both state and county lines, involve multiple major actors, and high volumes of heroin and other opioid-based drugs.

The unit has already taken on more than 40 cases, with six individuals already convicted and 15 currently facing charges.

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 take on felony murder cases in which it is alleged that the delivery of opioids has caused death.

Schuette Calls for Direction of Settlement Funds to Opioid Awareness and Education

On Wednesday, May 24, Schuette called for the Michigan Legislature to direct the $859,000 in proceeds from a settlement he negotiated with a pharmaceutical company towards opioid education and addiction prevention programs.

In a letter to Michigan’s legislative leadership, Schuette explained that with an average of five Michigan residents dying every day from opioid overdoses, Michigan has been identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as one of 19 states that has had a statistically significant increase in opioid-related deaths.

As a result, Schuette proposed that the legislature take a close look at using the nearly $1 million in settlement funds arriving next month in the state’s General Fund to enable the creation of state and/or local opioid awareness programs.

Michigan Opioid Task Force Called for Enforcement and Education Programs

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.