Michigan State Police stays vigilant for potential rise in fentanyl cases

MSP Public Information Officer Lt. Mark Giannunzio says the drug is still uncommon in Upper Michigan but wants law enforcement to be ready if more makes its way to the U.P.
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 6:34 PM EST
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - A new illegal drug is on law enforcement’s radar in Upper Michigan.

As we told you in August, counties like Marquette and Delta are seeing a slight decrease in drug-related cases. Meanwhile, Dickinson, Baraga and Houghton counties have seen an increase. Law enforcement and county prosecutors’ main concerns across the UP have been meth coming in from out-of-state.

Now, Upper Michigan law enforcement agencies are working to fight the distribution of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a drug you may have heard of before.

Marquette Forensic Laboratory Manager Zachary Blaksmith said it’s a scheduled narcotic. It can be legally prescribed to patients by medical providers.

“Fentanyl is basically a painkiller,” Blaksmith explained. “It’s utilized in a hospital-type setting.”

Michigan State Police Public Information Officer Lt. Mark Giannunzio added that the drug is prescribed to some patients.

“It is used through the medical procedure,” Lt. Giannunzio said. “Doctors can prescribe fentanyl in certain doses.”

Over time, however, Blaksmith noted that some fentanyl has moved away from hospitals and gotten into the hands of drug traffickers.

“It has been co-opted into the illicit market,” Blaksmith said.

Blaksmith said that this is where the drug becomes concerning. Problems involving fentanyl occur when it is sold illegally and the amount being used is unregulated.

Blaksmith added that the Marquette Forensic Lab has also started to notice a shift in some of the drug evidence it processes.

“Heroin samples that used to come into the lab or powders that were considered heroin typically are not anymore,” Blaksmith explained. “They are now typically a fentanyl product.”

According to the CDC, fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and over 33 times more potent than heroin. Lt. Giannunzio seconded this claim.

“It is very potent, very dangerous and in the wrong hands it is deadly,” Lt. Giannunzio warned.

While the drug is lethal in the wrong hands, Lt. Giannunzio said that it is still pretty uncommon in most of the UP.

“There’s not a ton of it that we’re seeing right now out here in the Upper Peninsula,” Lt. Giannunzio explained.

Lieutenant Derek Dixon of the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Office said in August that his county saw two primary drugs: meth and fentanyl. However, law enforcement from other counties like Marquette, Delta and Houghton explained that fentanyl was not very common.

Lt. Giannunzio did say, however, that Upper Michigan officers are still staying alert for fentanyl.

“Again, we want to stay ahead of this as much as we can,” Lt. Giannunzio said.

This includes training officers on how to handle it when and if it is found.

“Our troops, local officers and county deputies are all trained to make sure that when they observe this stuff they stay away from it, they use rubber gloves and package it the right way,” Lt. Giannunzio noted.

Lt. Giannunzio said that if fentanyl is not handled correctly, it has the potential to be fatal to whoever does so incorrectly.

“Officers don’t want to be in contact with it,” Lt. Giannunzio began. “If you even get some of that on your skin it could absorb into your bloodstream and could be deadly.”

Lt. Giannunzio added that if you do ever come into contact with what you believe to be fentanyl, notify law enforcement immediately. It is a fine, white powdery substance in pure form, but often it is mixed in with other drugs like meth, heroin and other opioids.

Lt. Giannunzio recommended that you use gloves of some sort if you absolutely must handle it.