United States Attorney's Office Addresses Opioid Epidemic
As part of his office’s “prevention, preservation and prosecution” efforts, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge encouraged the public to attend an upcoming community presentation at Grandville Public High School and announced the arrival in West Michigan of additional resources for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge invited the media to meet today with him and several partners from the community and law enforcement on how they are addressing the opioid crisis.
“It’s a matter of saving lives,” U.S. Attorney Birge declared as he recounted the staggering statistics recently released:
• Since 2009, drug overdose deaths have outpaced traffic accidents as the leading cause of injury death in the United States.
• Life expectancy in the United States dropped for two years in a row after more than a century of steady progress.
• The number of children admitted to hospitals for opioid overdose has nearly doubled since 2004, according to a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics.
• More people died of an overdose in 2016 than ever before-- and more than died in the entire Vietnam War.
• The Centers for Disease Control identified Michigan as one of the states experiencing a significant increase in its drug overdose death rates through 2016; and up over 24% for women just last year, according to the United Health Foundation.
• Emergency Department visits for opioid overdoses rose 30% in all parts of the country from July of 2016 through September of 2017. Opioid overdoses were up 70% in the Midwest during that period.
• Preliminary numbers from the Medical Examiner in Kent County for 2017 indicate that we lost at least 137 community members in this County to drug overdose deaths—a 50% increase over the preceding year, with more cases pending.
U.S. Attorney Birge explained: “We also know that this trend started with prescription drugs. Addiction to these drugs leads to heroin and worse, including fentanyl bought off the street. About 80% of heroin users report using prescription drugs prior to heroin.”
U.S. Attorney Birge then discussed the three ways his office is addressing the epidemic:
• Prevention, educating the public and community members—especially our youngest—to discourage the new use of these dangerous drugs;
• Preservation, furthering information about what can be done to protect those currently suffering from Substance Abuse disorders, teaming with medical and treatment professionals and those that provide overdose antidotes to the community; and
• Prosecution, investigating and charging those that would profit from the spread of these dangerous substances in our community.
In the area of prevention, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is teaming with Grandville Public Schools to host a community presentation on the epidemic in the Grandville High School Auditorium on March 19, 2018. “I cannot stress enough how important it is for parents and teenagers to understand this epidemic. Teenagers learn and grow by making the occasional poor choice, but they can’t afford to make poor choices with opioids,” explained U.S. Attorney Birge.
The Superintendent of Grandville Public Schools, Roger Bearup, spoke with the media about the upcoming presentation and discussion. “Grandville Public Schools is honored to partner with our state and national officials to provide this opportunity to raise public awareness of this very unfortunate crisis that plagues West Michigan and our country,” he offered. In addition, Grandville Police Chief, Dan Steere, addressed the effect that opioids have had in his community.
As for preserving the lives of those caught in the addiction spiral, Dr. Jeanne Kapenga talked about Families Against Narcotics (FAN) and how FAN educates the public and provides support for families facing addiction. Dr. Kapenga will also present about the basics of addiction and recovery at the Grandville event.
“My office, of course, enforces the law,” U.S. Attorney Birge said. “Enforcing the law deters the suppliers and saves lives.” He gave as an example his office’s prosecution last year of a physician from Albion, Dr. Horace Davis, for illegally prescribing opioid painkillers and committing healthcare fraud. And he highlighted the heroin trafficking conspiracy his office charged last fall against 28 people. “We used the tools at our disposal to build that case, including wiretaps and the secrecy of the grand jury. During the initial takedown, we seized over 21 kilograms of heroin, over 13 kilograms of cocaine and over $1.3M in cash.” He added that his office prosecuted 50% more heroin cases and defendants last year than the year before and that he expects that rate to keep rising. “The federal penalties for drug trafficking are heavy; trafficking offenses can carry mandatory minimum penalties of five, ten, and twenty years and even life in prison, depending on the amount of drugs involved and criminal history. So my message for those who would turn people into addicts or take advantage of those who are already addicted, is the following: we’re going to use every tool we have to come looking for you and to prove your guilt and the federal sentences you will face if convicted are severe.
On the subject of enforcement, Bruce McColley, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Detroit Field Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Cathy Gallagher, the Detroit Diversion Program Manager, addressed additional resources the DEA is bringing to West Michigan. The Grand Rapids office of the DEA will have more agents installed to investigate diversion of prescription drugs to non-medical uses, which fuels the epidemic. U.S. Attorney Birge explained that the additional resources “will substantially improve our ability to deter and prevent prescription drugs from ending up in the wrong hands.”