The Michigan State Police has created a new unit to investigate and prosecute medical professionals who illegally prescribe opioids in the state. The new Diversion Investigation Unit was formed this summer after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order in August that created the Michigan Opioids Task Force.
Col. Joe Gasper, the director of the Michigan State Police, said in a press release that the Diversion Investigation Unit will investigate health care professionals who are helping to fuel the state’s continuing opioid crisis.
“We evolve as crime does,” said Gasper. “This is a very real and potentially deadly part of the opioid epidemic. Prescribing medically unnecessary controlled substances pushes highly addictive drugs on to our streets impacting public and patient safety.”
The new unit has already investigated and charged two health care professionals suspected of illegally supplying opioids and other crimes, with more cases pending statewide. Ramona Brown, a nurse practitioner from Lansing, has been charged with one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, one count of conspiracy to manufacture illegal prescriptions, nine counts of manufacturing illegal prescriptions, and one count of health care fraud.
Dr. Arduth M. Burgess, D.O., of Mason has been charged with one count of manufacturing illegal prescriptions, two counts of possessing controlled substances, one count of health care fraud, one count of failing to keep records, and one misdemeanor count of licensee prescription violations.
New Unit Part of Statewide Task Force
The Diversion Investigative Unit is part of the Michigan Opioids Task Force, which was created by Whitmer with an executive order she signed in August. At that time, the governor’s office said that the new task force would bring together leaders from across the state to help tackle the opioid epidemic.
“As governor, my number one priority is protecting our families and our overall public health,” Whitmer said in a press release. “Right now, Michigan is among the states with the highest levels of opioid prescriptions and overdose deaths, with 2,053 overdoses in 2017 alone. This task force will bring us one step closer to finally ending the opioid epidemic in Michigan and keeping families safe.”
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the State of Michigan and chief deputy director for health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was chosen to lead the task force. She said that the opioid crisis has taken a steep toll on the state.
“Too many families have been devastated by the opioid epidemic in Michigan,” said Khaldun. “If we’re going to keep Michiganders safe and healthy, we must get to work addressing this crisis. The team at MDHHS is ready to work with all of our partners in state government to help Michiganders get on the road to recovery and prevent opioid addiction in the first place.”
In addition to the work of the Diversion Investigation Unit, the Michigan Opioids Task Force offers other services to address the opioid crisis including a website dedicated to providing information on the subject, resources for patients and health care professionals, and the Michigan State Police’s Angel Program for those struggling with addiction.