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Michigan Feeling The Wrath Of The Opiate Epidemic

Though opiate addiction may take place behind closed doors, the fallout from abusing opiates affects all those around. Watching a friend or family member become consumed by opiates is terrifying and scary. You can literally watch a person fall apart physically, emotionally, and mentally due to opiate use.  Iron County, Michigan is no stranger to the opiate epidemic plaguing the country. Opiate abuse is at the highest rates in Iron County, and the town and community are looking for ways to combat the issue.

Opiates do not discriminate and Iron County is seeing the damage being done first hand. Iron County Sheriff Mark Valesano, “A lot of people in our jail are there because of substance-abuse related crimes,” Valesano said. “They commit crimes while they are high, or they’re pill-seeking, or they’re stealing drugs from other people, or they’re stealing money to buy drugs.  “If a person has a several-hundred-dollar-a-day drug habit, the money has to come from somewhere.”  Iron River Police Chief Laura Frizzo agreed with Valesano’s comments.

“The people that have these kinds of drug addictions generally aren’t working, and they need to feed their habit,” she said. “They don’t have any money, so out of desperation they’ll just go in and steal.” Many addicts first sell their personal belongings. It's common for them to sell their jewelry, clothing, personal items, even their cars to feed their addiction.  When they run out of money, they normally start with small petty theft from friends and family to help feed their addiction.  The problem occurs when an addict runs out of money and items to steal or pawn.

“What I’ve noticed in the last few years is the dramatic increase in B&E (Breaking and Entering) that are due to the drug problem we have here,” Frizzo said. “Our crime has done nothing but go up and go up and go up. We have so much property crime now, and I would say at least 60 percent of that is directly related to the drug problem. And that’s probably a low number.”

Addicts are also becoming creative to help get their fix. Many are looking for jobs or helping the elderly. Many elderly people have opiates for their daily aches and pains. Addicts know this and are quick to help carry in groceries or do some handy work around their house. They then ask to use their bathroom, and jackpot. They find opiates in the elderly's medicine cabinet. Addicts will go to great lengths to feed their addiction and keep opiate withdrawals at bay, and many do not care who they take or steal from to feed their addiction.

These small petty crimes are affecting towns all across America. Cars are being broken into and homes are being robbed. Addicts are even getting desperate enough to hold up pharmacies. Many pharmacies are starting to hire armed guards to protect their pharmacists.  These crimes are worrying lots of people.  Tim Sholander, team commander of the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team has said, “We want to educate the public on what to look for. We want to get kids involved in things like peer groups. And we want to saturate the areas with police to drive it out. “But a large portion of this has to be education.”

The police in the county are warning home owners to keep their cars and houses locked up. Also to keep their prescription painkillers and medications locked away as well and to report and strange or suspicious activity they see to the police.


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