Meth cases spike

Authorities say ‘streets remain safe’

Though the number of legal cases involving methamphetamine in Marquette County had been declining in recent years, the Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office saw a dramatic increase in 2018. (Journal graphic by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — It’s not just your imagination — methamphetamine use, manufacture and delivery cases have dramatically increased in Marquette County this year, according to data from the Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office.

“From Jan. 1 to July 31, the first seven months of 2018, we had 95 methamphetamine felony filings,” Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese said. “That would include both possession, which is a 10-year (felony) and it would include delivery or manufacture, which is a 20-year (felony).”

This is a substantial increase from the 23 cases handled by the office in 2017 and the 27 cases in 2016, Wiese said, noting that the number of meth cases had been declining prior to 2018.

“We saw a somewhat regular uptick in meth cases for a number of years,” he said. “And then things started to slow down” until this year.

Felony meth convictions carry severe penalties, especially with multiple convictions, he said.

Wiese estimated that about two-thirds of this year’s meth cases involved the possession or distribution of crystal meth, as opposed to “homemade” forms of methamphetamine.

“We’ve had a huge influx of the ice, or crystal meth, that we believe is ultimately coming from Mexico,” Wiese said.

Wiese said Marquette County is not alone in this phenomenon, noting that in the southwest portion of the state, the Kalamazoo County prosecutor has also seen an influx of crystal meth and a “huge uptick in methamphetamine cases.”

“It’s not just a rural problem, although it seems to be distributed in rural areas pretty prevalently,” Wiese said.

Local law enforcement has been working hard to combat crystal meth in Marquette County, Wiese said.

“The Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team, they’ve been doing a very good job with tracking down the leads,” he said. “And local law enforcement has also been doing a good job if they encounter people with crystal meth or on crystal meth, as far as trying to work that chain to find out where it’s coming into the community. It’s not like we’re not catching them. As you can tell by our numbers, it’s just pretty prevalent.”

Law enforcement agencies have undertaken a number of measures to address the prevalence of meth and other controlled substances on the streets.

“We’ve had to specialize more in training, for instance, like the drug recognition expert,” Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt said, noting that the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, or ARIDE, program is another form of training officers may undergo.

Treatment programs for those who have meth-related offenses is another way the county is addressing the issue, Wiese said.

“We do always offer a treatment option, we have a drug court here and even if people don’t partake in the drug court program, if they are sent to jail rather than prison, they’re given a treatment option,” he said.

Treatment is important, Wiese said, as meth use carries many grave consequences — physical, mental and legal.

“People have to eventually get to a point where one of two things is going to happen to them: they’re either going to die, or they are going to decide that they are sick and tired of being involved (with) using, being addicted to drugs,” he said.

Felony methamphetamine convictions carry severe penalties, especially with multiple convictions, he said.

“With each felony conviction, the penalties get more severe and they get incrementally higher, and people will go to prison for methamphetamine. It happens because we just can’t tolerate having this in our community.”

The increased prevalence of meth cases is part of a larger pattern. Felony cases have increased in the county this year, Wiese said, noting roughly half of the 2018 felony cases have been on controlled substance charges.

There were 469 felony cases filed with the Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office in 2016 and 554 in 2018. As of Aug. 25 this year, the office had handled 386 felony filings.

If cases continue at the same rate, the office will handle about 600 felony filings by the end of year, Wiese said, noting that they believe some non-drug offenses are likely related to the use of controlled substances.

“A lot of our larcenies and theft cases are related to drugs and that people are trying to get resources so they can buy drugs,” he said.

Zyburt said he believes controlled substance abuse may be “causing a more serious type of crime, for instance, the drive-by shootings, the assaults in the county.”

The uptick in meth cases — and controlled substance cases in general — has been noticed at the Marquette County Jail, Zyburt said.

“Currently, we have 54 inmates in jail on drug offenses and this doesn’t include marijuana, this is harder drugs — out of the 133 inmates, that’s 41 percent,” Zyburt said. “This doesn’t take into account known drug offenders that are currently lodged on non-drug-related offenses. That would probably add another 15 to 20 inmates.”

Furthermore, the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office has handled 48 felony-level drug cases, with 64 charges in 2018 — 46 of those charges involved meth, Marquette County Undersheriff Dan Willey said.

“There’s a crystal meth epidemic right now,” Willey said.

Authorities have also had to deal with meth being smuggled into the jail — a serious offense that poses a major risk for the health and safety of all at the jail, Zyburt said.

Around a quarter of the 95 meth cases this year were related to people who were lodged in the county jail and were in possession and using meth in the facility, Wiese said.

To prevent further instances of smuggling, the sheriff’s office is looking into a body scanner to screen incoming individuals for contraband, Zyburt said, noting that the Marquette County Jail would be the first in the state to have a scanner of this type.

“We’re in the process of researching it and we’ll bring it to the (Marquette County) Board in the near future,” Zyburt said.

While the number of drug charges — particularly meth-related ones — have increased in Marquette County this year, officials emphasized the community is still safe.

“There’s not a whole lot of violent crime up here,” Willey said. “It’s still a safe place to live.”

Wiese echoed this statement.

“As far as safety on the streets, we have a safe community and law enforcement and my office certainly intends to try to keep it that way,” he said, noting that he is grateful for the work of the county’s law enforcement community.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.