Michigan must harness new technologies to do battle with drug traffickers and the opioid crisis, a Michigan State University criminal justice researcher says in a new report sponsored by the university’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.
Training, monitoring and wiretap laws also need to be beefed up to combat prescription drugs that can be life-threatening when abused or overused, Juli Liebler, former East Lansing police chief now director of outreach in MSU’s School of Criminal Justice.
She explained her work as part of the latest IPPSR State of the State podcast with Interim Director Arnold Weinfeld and Charles Ballard, an economist who directs IPPSR’s State of the State Survey. The next State of the State Podcast will be recorded this week, and published shortly thereafter.
The State of the State Survey, by celll and land line phones, regularly asks Michigan adults about current affairs, elected officials’ performance and their confidence in the economy.
In her research, Liebler asked 252 narcotics investigators across the state to identify effective – and ineffective – strategies for identifying and prosecuting opioid dealers. They were also asked to share their ideas for crime-busting new policies or laws, questions they aren’t frequently asked, she said.
Investigators are relying on traditional, tried-and-true strategies like confidential informants or undercover drug buys, she found.
Yet, informants may be so overwhelmed by addictions they can’t lead investigators to higher level drug dealers needed to stem the tide of drugs. “…the opioid hold is so strong that people can hardly function,” she said in the podcast.
Some agencies are successfully using new technology – like automated prescription tracking systems – but more need to be aware of the software and trained in how to use it effectively, she said.
Software remains expensive and communities and police remain pressed to keep up with the pace of upgrades, she added.
“It’s an arms race,” Ballard said.
Liebler also surveyed prosecutors in all 83 Michigan counties, finding their frustrations similar.
More holistic solutions call for additional spending, she said, on increased drug user rehabilitation services, updated laws to address changing chemical compounds, allowing real-time wiretapping, fast-track lab results and new approaches to repeat offenders.
“We need to look at this more as a medical issue than a crime issue, because as we know, as people get more addicted, the brain changes, and they're less able to abstain from using,” she said.
Drug abuse damages the economy too, Ballard said. New studies show “deaths of despair,” from suicide, alcoholism, chronic liver disease and poisonings – or opioid overdoses.
“What you're giving up when they die is decades of what could have been a productive contributor to society,” he said. Their loss amounts are staggering when translated to dollars. “It’s in the millions per person,” he said.
The crisis echoes Michigan’s current debate over road repairs, schools and critical infrastructure like water and sewer and high-speed internet, Ballard and Weinfeld said in the podcast available on Soundcloud, ITunes and on the IPPSR website.
“Should the police crime lab have the resources to do the job? I think almost everybody would say yes. But then, the question is how do you come up with that money?” Ballard asked. “Most of us … want the roads fixed. We want it to be paid for by somebody else, and that makes it really tough.”
While the Legislature works this spring toward a budget that funds state government’s fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, school districts are waiting on financing for a year that begins July 1, Weinfeld noted.” I think it's going to be something of a long summer.”
IPPSR is a unit of the College of Social Services. It is the home of the Office for Survey Research, the Michigan Political Leadership Program, IPPSR Public Policy Forums and databases yielding a network of policy research.