GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — As part of a nation-wide effort to address prescription opioid drug abuse as well as the heroin addiction and overdose epidemic, U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles hosted a panel of experts for a series of in-depth discussions about the causes, the impact on families of victims and efforts in West Michigan to roll back the tide of opioid addiction.

Joining the U.S. Attorney for the September 23 event were agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as Dr. Jeanne Kapenga, head of the Grand Rapids chapter of Families Against Narcotics (FAN), Dawn Smith, Executive Director of the Substance Abuse Council, Jim Middleton, Director of Pharmacy Services, Sindecuse Pharmacy, Scott Hage, a Physician’s Assistant from Spectrum Health’s Center for Integrative Medicine, Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker and Mary DeBoer, a mother who lost a son to a drug overdose and who now works in addiction treatment.

“The prescription drug abuse epidemic is an urgent health crisis affecting every community across the nation, including those in West Michigan,” Miles said. “The facts are beyond troubling: Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers quadrupled since 1999. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death. More people die of prescription drug overdoses than from heroin
and cocaine combined. In 2015, 2.7 million Americans – 1% of the entire population – abused prescription drugs. The vast majority – two million people – abused prescription painkillers. Although the United States accounts for just 5% of the world’s population, it consumes 80% of the world’s opioid supply and 99% of its hydrocodone supply.

“Michigan is no exception. Prescription drug overdoses in Michigan tripled between 1999 and 2012, and heroin overdoses quadrupled in that timeframe. Drug overdoses are rising dramatically here in Kent County, which experienced 109 drug overdoses in 2015, versus 75 in 2014 and just 17 in 1994. Prescription drugs are the number one cause of drug overdose deaths in Kent County. The figures are similar throughout much of West Michigan.”

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch designated the week of September 19, 2016 as National Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week. “We are highlighting this issue because prescription drug addiction can happen to any family, in any community, to a person of any background,” Miles stated. “We are particularly interested in educating parents and parent teacher organizations about this issue. That is because teenagers are particularly susceptible to misusing prescription drugs because of a misconception that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs. Parents and teens must be aware that non-medical use of prescription drugs of any kind can be just as dangerous as use of street drugs like heroin and cocaine. They must learn never to use another person’s prescription drugs, or to share or lose track of their own prescription drugs, because that is how the path to opioid addiction, and possibly heroin use and overdose, begins.

“I invite parents interested in a presentation from my office on these issues to their school organization to contact us. For example, the FBI and DEA jointly produced a documentary designed to open the eyes of parents and teens. It is called “Chasing the Dragon,” and I warn viewers that the film contains language and events some may find disturbing. But the reality of this epidemic is disturbing and parents in particular need to be aware.” Chasing the Dragon, the Life of an Opiate Addict, A Documentary Produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Drug Enforcement Administration.

Mr. Miles also detailed his office’s recent enforcement actions dealing with larger heroin distributors in the district, highlighting the use of wiretap evidence to convict nine members of the
Joseph Jackson Drug Trafficking Organization in Benton Harbor Michigan, and later the charges against nine additional defendants in the Dion Branch investigation in Kalamazoo.

“The most disturbing aspect of the evidence in these wire investigations are the circumstances surrounding overdoses in this cases. The calls reveal, when overdoses occur, users actually become more interested in the heroin being sold. In the ravages of their addiction, users are most interested in the strongest high, and not in their own well-being.”

“This is not new information to the law enforcement members, treatment professionals and family members and friends gathered here. They live with this crisis; on the faces and in the souls
of their loved ones every day, but it is on all of us in the community to end it.”

“We can not prosecute our way out of this crisis. My office is available to work with schools to prevent it from spreading and to work with these partners to end its stranglehold on those addicted and working through recovery.”