ESCANABA - The Delta County Board of Commissioners have agreed to look into potential funding options for the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET) at Tuesday's county board meeting. The board's action came following a presentation by an UPSET representative on the ongoing drug problem in the U.P. and funding issues for the group.
UPSET is a multi-jurisdictional task force designated to combat the drug problem in 12 counties of the Upper Peninsula, excluding Chippewa, Luce and Mackinac counties, according to Lt. George Sailer of UPSET.
"It's a vast, large area to cover and a lot of expenses come in driving," said Sailer. "We lease cars and we drive a lot of miles to go places, so that's where most of our expenses have occurred."
The group is represented by officers and deputies from the Michigan State Police, Delta County Sheriff's Department, Escanaba Public Safety, Marquette County Sheriff's Department, Marquette City Police Department and Menominee City Police Department. It also includes one agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, two Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents, two Drug Enforcement Administration agents and one from U.S. Fish and Wildlife - providing the team many resources to draw from, he said.
Sailer said the primary abused drugs in the U.P. at this time include cocaine, methamphetamine, bath salts, heroin, prescription drugs, marijuana, and synthetic marijuana.
One growing problem in the area is methamphetamine.
"This (meth) is a major problem in a lot of areas in the U.P. that we're starting to deal with, and we're seeing this increase exponentially," he said, noting meth labs have changed in that meth used to be created in a chemistry lab set-up, but now can be made in empty plastic bottles. The number of meth labs that UPSET has encountered have increased from five labs in 2009 to 25 labs in 2012 to date.
Synthetic drugs, such as K2, Spice, and bath salts, are also a major problem, and Sailer said the U.P. was the first area of the state that was introduced to them.
Sailer said prescription drugs are one of the most "widely abused drugs" in this area.
He cited a study by the University of Michigan that highlighted that after marijuana, the No. 2 most taken drug among teens is prescription drugs, and estimates that Oxycontin is probably the most abused prescription drug in this area.
Last year, UPSET heard 242 total drug complaints, arrested nearly 200 people on 300 arrest calls and conducted 40 search warrants.
"In Delta County alone, last year we did 52 complaints. We're at 61 already for the year to date," he said. Other local numbers indicate that 21 people were arrested in Delta County last year, which is at eight so far for 2012, and seven search warrants were conducted last year, compared to six so far for 2012.
Sailer said UPSET needs $188,000 this year to operate.
"Right now today my budget at UPSET is zero," he said.
Last year, UPSET spent approximately $73,000 on leased cars so officers could go out and do their jobs. Of the $188,000 - that accounts for approximately 40 percent of their budget.
"I'm looking for assistance from anybody who might have any ideas," he said. "My approach to this is that the more I get the message out, the more somebody might have an idea for me."
Commissioner Dave Moyle suggested the board look at funding a car for UPSET through the Delta County Sheriff's Department at the cost of $10,000.
Commissioner Dave Rivard said he is not opposed to providing funding to UPSET, but that there are other areas of the county's budget that needed to be cut due to funding issues.
"I think for us to reach into our pocket at a last minute notice like today is just not right for us," said Rivard. "We just did our budget ... and that $10,000 wasn't in there."
Moyle said he respected Rivard's opinion but that he sees the problem continually getting worse.
"I know that this situation ... is going to end up in our laps very shortly," he said.
Commissioner Mary Harrington said she personally supported providing funding, but also agreed with Rivard and said she needed more time to make an informed decision.
"Before I will make a spur-of-the-moment decision in regards to the people that I represent, I think that we need to have a little more time to look at where the money is going to come from and how we can do it," she said.
Moyle made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Ryan Holm, to request that the administrator look at various county funds where $10,000 for UPSET might be taken to provide some funding. The board unanimously voted to approve the motion.