U.S. Attorney Calls Summit On Heroin, Prescription Painkiller Epidemic

By Paul Gaita 09/30/15

Barbara McQuade of Michigan called on surrounding states to find solutions to the opioid epidemic.

Barbara McQuade of Michigan
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In response to the number of overdose deaths from heroin and prescription opioids in the Midwest, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade of Michigan called on federal prosecutors from six neighboring states to meet at a one-day summit to address issues of drug trafficking, illegal prescriptions, and other factors fueling the epidemic.

McQuade and authorities from Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania met on August 26 as part of an initiative by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force to halt heroin and prescription pill trafficking in the region. At a press conference for the summit, McQuade noted that organized groups in Michigan and Ohio have expanded their sales to many of the aforementioned states, as well as Tennessee and West Virginia.

“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,” said McQuade. “That has resulted in some significant problems in Michigan, and we seem to be exporting our problems to other states.”

The attending officials plan to share strategies with other regional Justice Department officials to develop an initiative to tackle the problem. Among the strategies discussed at the summit are a national “Take Back Day,” where unused prescription medication like Oxycodone can be brought to local police departments to keep it out of the illegal opioid trade.

Targeting high-level drug traffickers for arrest is also a key factor in the proposed initiative, as well as an increase in education about the addictive nature of painkillers for doctors and more expansive treatment for addicts.

McQuade and fellow prosecutors are facing an uphill battle with their efforts. According to her office, heroin overdoses in a single region of southeast Michigan have doubled in the last two years, while more than 60 people have died from heroin and fentanyl overdoses in Wayne and Washtenaw County alone since the beginning of 2015.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.