GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The explosion of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced fake drugs in the United States is a key target of the newest U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan.
Mark Totten, who has only been on the job since May, says that fentanyl is turning up at an alarming frequency. He sat down Tuesday with News 8 political reporter Rick Albin ahead of a press conference with the Drug Enforcement Agency and local hospital officials to discuss ways officials are looking to crack down on the rise of drugs in the community.
Over the past year, more than 10 million pills and 982 pounds of fentanyl powder were confiscated by the DEA nationwide. That’s equivalent to 36 million deadly doses, Detroit Division Special Agent in Charge Orville Greene said.
“The DEA’s concern is that fentanyl is the biggest threat to our communities, the biggest threat currently to our families,” Greene said. “And the poisonings (are) killing Americans at a catastrophic rate.”
Of those 36 million deadly doses, 4 million were found between Michigan and Ohio. Greene said that the numbers are combined because the drugs often travel the I-75 corridor and arrests often span both states.
Officials also touched on a new form of the drug that has been rising in popularity known as rainbow fentanyl. Over 15,000 of the colored pills were seized inside a box of Legos in New York earlier this month. The DEA says that so far, rainbow fentanyl has been found in 21 states.
The latest type of fentanyl plays just one part in a much more alarming trend in the U.S. In 2021, the country saw its highest number of drug overdoses and poisonings ever, with 2,800 in Michigan. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has even established overdoses as the leading cause of death for adults 18-45. Totten said that the people who are dying are not just the ones who knowingly ingest the drugs.
“You have teenagers who might be at a party and for the first time ever they decide to pop a pill that someone hands to them. They say, ‘It’s a Xanax, this will loosen you up a little.’ And it turns out that in 60 minutes they’re dead,” Totten said. “They don’t even realize what they swallowed.”
While law enforcement agencies continue to round up drugs, Totten said that his office is working to help keep those selling the drugs off the streets. If someone is convicted of distribution resulting in death, the mandatory minimum is 20 years in prison and the maximum is life. If the defendant had a previous felony drug conviction, it can be a mandatory life sentence.
But even with law enforcement’s best efforts, Totten remained adamant about the dangers fentanyl poses to communities.
“To put it simply, the prevalence of fentanyl has made drug use a game of Russian roulette,” Totten said.
If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, you can contact the Grand Rapids Red Project at 616.456.9063 or by visiting its website by clicking here. The Red Project is a nonprofit that offers help with drug use and overdose prevention including 24-hour access to Narcan.