By MATTHEW HALL
Capital News Service
LANSING – Heroin dealers are flowing into the western portion of the Upper Peninsula from Wisconsin, possibly driven by a perceived mismatch in drug sentencing laws between the two states, law enforcement experts say.
There have been 22 felony arrests, including arrests for sale and possession, by the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET) in 2013, according to the team’s Detective Sgt. Jamie Patterson.
About 86 percent of the heroin cases investigated by the UP’s drug task force occur in the city of Menominee and along the border with Wisconsin, according to Detective Lt. Timothy Sholander at UPSET.
Law enforcement officials have also seen heroin use spread into Marquette. A high-profile drug raid by UPSET detectives arrested six Iron River residents in June.
“I suspect that it will continue throughout the UP if more and more get addicted,” Sholander said.
Intelligence gathered by the UPSET team shows that most of the heroin can be traced back through Wisconsin to Milwaukee and ultimately Chicago.
He said he believes the heroin is being sold by dealers pushed into Michigan by stricter Wisconsin drug laws.
Suspects convicted of selling heroin in Wisconsin may be sentenced to less time on average than those caught in Michigan, UPSET detectives said.
Those caught selling 50 grams of heroin in Michigan may get a $25,000 fine and/or 1-20 years in prison or probation for life. There are 28 grams in an ounce.
Those caught selling 10-50 grams in Wisconsin may be fined up to $100,000 or get up to 25 years in prison, according to the Wisconsin Criminal Code.
The mismatch may be responsible for moving more of the drug faster into Michigan, Sholander said.
“Even our efforts in enforcement haven’t slowed heroin coming into the UP,” he said.
It has not been a concern only for law enforcement agencies. Local hospitals and health departments in the western and central UP are dealing with the influx too.
“Cases have gone up significantly over the past few years,” said Mary Claire Massi-Lee, the drug program director at Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties. “It’s been affecting families. There have been a lot of protective services cases because children are in homes where it’s being used or are there when it’s being used.”
Many heroin abusers were previously addicted to prescription pills, another large problem for the UP, said Special Agent Rich Isaacson, drug prevention coordinator with the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Detroit Division.
Thirty percent of patients at Phoenix House, a drug rehabilitation center in Calumet Township, are there because of prescription pill addictions, said Mike Mikkola a human resources manager at the center.
Sholander, the drug task force detective, said the problem is taking its toll on area businesses as well: “We’ve talked to business owners and the community groups, and they have a hard time finding people to pass their drug tests because of prescription pill issues.”
Sholander said the influx of heroin may be creating a perilous mix with the prescription pill problem that makes a coherent drug policy response difficult.
More police focus on prescription pills always creates a higher demand among users for heroin. And vice versa: As there are more arrests for heroin, the demand rises for oxycontin, suboxone and other opiate prescription drugs.
“It’s a vicious battle,” Sholander said. “It’s like if you don’t have one, it seems you have the other.”
UPSET’s participants include the State Police, the sheriff’s departments in Marquette, Delta and Menominee counties, and the Marquette and Escanaba police.