After the 2020 election, Washtenaw County’s newly elected prosecutor formed a number of transition teams to address behavioral health issues in the criminal justice system. A member of the WHI Opioid Project workgroup was asked to participate in the prosecutor’s Substance Use Disorder transition team with other Opioid Project workgroup members from UNIFIED HIV Health and Beyond, the Michigan Opioid Collaborative, the Community Mental Health Partnership of Southeast Michigan, Washtenaw County Community Mental Health, Avalon Housing, and the Washtenaw County Health Department.
The group’s input led to a new prosecutorial policy, published on January 13, 2021, stating that the office would not prosecute the possession of personal-use amounts of Buprenorphine, a medication used to treat Opioid Use Disorder:
“Because buprenorphine is a tremendously effective medication that can aid in [opioid use] recovery—and prevent people from using more dangerous drugs such as heroin or fentanyl—other communities have effectively decriminalized buprenorphine. In 2018, for example, the State’s Attorney in Chittenden County, Vermont announced that she would no longer prosecute misdemeanor buprenorphine crimes. The observed effects were unambiguously positive. In the year after buprenorphine was effectively decriminalized, overdose deaths in Chittenden County fell by 50 percent,” states the policy.
“Accordingly, in light of the observed experience of other communities and the nature of buprenorphine itself, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will no longer prosecute the use or possession of buprenorphine. The Prosecutor’s Office, however, will continue to file charges against large-scale manufacturers or distributors of buprenorphine who are engaged in the black-market sale of buprenorphine for profit, as well as those who sell buprenorphine as part of a “designer drug” that includes other dangerous drugs (such as heroin or fentanyl).”