August 26, 2015

U.S. Attorneys and Federal Law Enforcement Leaders Conduct Summit to Target Heroin and Opioid Trafficking and Overdose Epidemic

United States Attorneys and leaders of federal law enforcement agencies from across six states met in Detroit on August 26, 2015, to share strategies to combat the heroin and prescription pill epidemic across the region.

The effort was announced jointly by United States Attorneys Barbara L. McQuade (Eastern District of Michigan), Kerry Harvey (Eastern District of Kentucky), Patrick A. Miles, Jr. (Western District of Michigan), Steven Dettelbach (Northern District of Ohio), Carter Stewart (Southern District of Ohio), John Kuhn, Jr. (Western District of Kentucky), David J. Hickton (Western District of Pennsylvania), William C. Killian (Eastern District of Tennessee), David Rivera (Middle District of Tennessee), Edward L. Stanton (Western District of Tennessee), William Ihlenfeld, II (Northern District of West Virginia), and R. Booth Goodwin, II (Southern District of West Virginia), Directors of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (“HIDTA”) Abraham Azzam (Michigan), Derek Siegle (Ohio) and Frank Rapier (Appalachia), Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) Special Agents in Charge Joseph P. Reagan (Detroit Division), Karl Colder (Washington, D.C., Division), Gary Tuggle (Philadelphia Division) and Daniel Salter (Atlanta Division), Special Agent in Charge Paul Abbate, Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Detroit Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Marlon Miller, Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) in Detroit and Special Agent in Charge Howard Marshall, Federal Bureau of Investigation for Kentucky.

Hickton co-chairs the national Heroin Task Force.

The summit was called in response to the national epidemic of heroin and prescription pill abuse that has hit Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, particularly hard. Heroin overdose deaths in the United States have tripled from 2010 to 2013. Nationally, the number of deaths from all drug overdoses exceeded 43,000 last year, more deaths than from traffic accidents. Heroin use in the United States has doubled from 2007 to 2012.

In the Midwest, opioid deaths have increased 62 percent. Just since January 1, more than 60 people have died by overdose of heroin and fentanyl in Wayne and Washtenaw counties alone. The number of heroin overdose deaths in Oakland County doubled from 2013 to 2014. The summit seeks to target this national and regional problem by dismantling drug trafficking organizations that distribute heroin and prescription pills and by increasing prevention and educational efforts.

One of the purposes of the summit is to discuss a regional strategic initiative as part of the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program. Under this initiative, law enforcement and prosecutors across the region will investigate and prosecute the movement of heroin and prescription pills from Michigan and Ohio into Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. This effort includes action by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, DEA, FBI, HSI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations (“IRS-CI”). As part of the initiative, the three HIDTA programs in the region (Michigan, Ohio, and Appalachia) will work with their federal, state and local partners to increase enforcement of heroin and pill trafficking and to target drug distribution that results in overdoses and deaths.

The initiative also includes a commitment by each United States Attorney to engage in district-wide anti-heroin and prescription pill programs. For example, in the Eastern District of Michigan, United States Attorney Barbara McQuade has enacted Project HOPE (Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Enforcement). Project HOPE includes the targeting of drug traffickers whose distribution results in the death or overdose of the purchasers of the drugs. Project HOPE also dedicates more resources towards prosecuting heroin and pill traffickers generally. The initiative includes educational and outreach efforts to educate the public about the dangers of heroin and prescription pill abuse.

United States Attorney McQuade said, “The epidemic of overdose deaths from heroin and prescription pill abuse is startling and needs to be met with an intense response by law enforcement. This summit is intended to strengthen and better coordinate our efforts to disrupt heroin and pill trafficking across the region. We also seek to raise public awareness about addiction, treatment and prevention.”

Joseph Reagan, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, Detroit Division, which is responsible for Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, said, “The DEA welcomes this opportunity to examine best practices with our law enforcement partners and coordinate enforcement efforts. Equally important to DEA is working to increase the level of public awareness regarding the dangers of prescription drug abuse, not the least of which is the very realistic path to heroin use.”