Local officials putting all resources on the table to address ongoing drug epidemic
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
On the same day President Donald J. Trump declared the abuse of opioid drugs as a national emergency, local law enforcement and governmental officials discussed resources in place to combat the illegal use of prescription drugs and highly addictive substances.
Detective Lt. Mark Pintar, the Strike Team Investigative Narcotics Group (STING) unit commander, gave an update on the undercover drug team’s activity at the Crawford County Board of Commissioners meeting held on Thursday, Aug. 10.
STING covers Arenac, Crawford, Iosco, Ogemaw, Oscoda, and Roscommon counties.
A Byrne Grant, funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, funds drug enforcement task forces throughout the state. The grant funding was significantly reduced in 2015.
Near the end of 2014, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, the City Grayling Council, and six townships in Crawford County approved an inter-local agreement to keep the team active in the county handling drug enforcement investigations and for surveillance activities.
Each municipality in the county agreed to pay its share based on a per capita basis on population in their jurisdiction and the Crawford County Board of Commissions agreed to match that funding. Crawford Administrator Paul Compo said the amount committed to support STING is $19,706.06. The funding has continued yearly, and will be in place for the foreseeable future.
Pintar said the financial help from Crawford County helps fund operations beyond the costs for its office space and equipment.
“We’re trying to balance that out so we’re not dipping into that too much,” Pintar said of the funding the team receives from the federal government.
Pintar said some law enforcement agencies in its coverage area are considering levying millages to fund STING officers. There are currently six members on the team.
“I’m hoping to see an increase in our officers that are assigned to STING,” Pintar said.
Overall, Pintar said complaints reported to STING have increased as well as the number of arrests for drug trafficking. The use of confidential informants, however, has decreased to help in investigations.
“They don’t want to either help themselves or they’re nervous about being involved in being an informant,” Pintar said.
Working in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, Pintar said STING was able to purchase a trailer to handle methamphetamine labs, which are dumped on national forest land. Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance that is made with over the counter drugs and common household items and cleaning products. Producing just grams of the drug leaves behind pounds of hazardous waste.
The trailer allows the STING team to process scenes, load materials up, and transport it rather than having Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) personnel respond from far away urban areas or a site near the Mackinac Bridge. The DEA bills for the clean-up range from $10,000 to $50,000, depending on amount of materials that have to be processed.
“By having this trailer, we can do all of that and we wipe that out of the mix,” Pintar said of the bills and waiting for other agents to respond.
The DEA then is responsible for hauling away the hazardous materials to have it destroyed at a safe disposal site.
Pintar said STING officers are called in to investigate overdose deaths, especially those involving heroin use. He said that has led to targeting drug dealers bringing heroin to northern Michigan from Detroit and Flint. Those cases are now being prosecuted by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office rather than local prosecutors because they can seek for more stringent prison sentences under federal sentencing guidelines.
Due to the fact that heroin and other drugs are now being laced with the painkiller fentanyl and Carfentanil, a drug used to sedate large animals such as elephants, officers now carry Narcan. The drug can be used to revive overdose victims and law enforcement officers who mishandle the substance without gloves or respirators.
“There have been several people that have been saved and it has brought them back,” Pintar said.
Although law enforcement agencies and pharmacies take back unused prescription drugs, Pintar said the amount of pills doctors are prescribing that get out on the streets is staggering.
“The volume of pills is just huge and is extreme,” he said.
Dave Stephenson, chairman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, questioned the distribution of Narcan to the public, raising concerns that it will promote riskier drug use.
Pintar agreed that it was a difficult position to be put in while trying to keep drugs off the streets and educate people out the dangers of drug addiction.
“It’s a tough dilemma to be put in,” he said.
Pintar recently attended a training where the Angel Program was addressed. Under this plan, drug addicts who seek help are placed in a recovery program rather than face arrest and jail time. The Michigan State Police Angel Program allows an individual struggling with drug addiction to walk into a Michigan State Police Post during regular business hours and ask for assistance. If accepted into the Michigan State Police Angel Program, the individual will be guided through a professional substance abuse assessment and intake process to ensure proper treatment placement. An “Angel” volunteer, who is a member of the local community, will be present to support the individual during the process, and to provide transportation to the identified treatment facility.
“It’s to help that person that really wants to seek that help because they know they’re going down the wrong path,” Pintar said. “It’s unfortunate that they get to that point in their life, but it’s a last ditch effort.”
Pintar agreed to help Stephenson and other local officials who are spearheading a program to educate the youth and the community about the downfalls of drug abuse.
“We’re after grant money and we’ll go beyond that for funding,” Stephenson said. “We want to concentrate on what’s best for Crawford County and what’s the best bang for our buck.”