We must eliminate “qualified immunity,” and hold police accountable for their conduct.
Excerpts from the Article:
James King was a college student walking to work in 2014 when two officers in street clothes stopped him and asked his name. King answered them, but one tore the wallet from his pocket anyway. Thinking he was being mugged, King ran.
The officers tackled him and beat him badly – so badly that bystanders called 911. One officer later said he beat King in the head and face “as hard as I could, as fast as I could.” It quickly became clear law enforcement had the wrong man, but prosecutors put King on trial for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer.
King was acquitted, but when he tried to sue the officers for violating his civil rights, the Supreme Court ruled they were protected against legal action.
Evading consequences for injustice
King’s case is one in a lengthy list of incidents where law enforcement officers violate the rights of citizens and hardly ever face consequences. It’s probably one reason polls show faith in state and local governments falling.
The lack of accountability is due in part to a policy crafted largely by court decisions over the past 50 years that protect government employees from lawsuits. Almost no legislature voted to create “qualified immunity,” but it protects police and other officials from civil suits anyway. You can sue a doctor or lawyer if their recklessness causes egregious harm, or even death. But you typically can’t sue an official who happens to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Internal Revenue Service.
Sadly, there are countless stories like King’s.
Dave Myers: I’ve seen enough police abuse in my career to know qualified immunity harms good cops
In January 2017, Muhammad Muhaymin walked into a public community center in Phoenix to use the restroom. A member of the staff tried to prevent him from bringing his service dog, a chihuahua, and eventually called the police. When officers responded, they found that Muhaymin was not behaving violently or aggressively but had an outstanding warrant for possession of a marijuana pipe. They attempted to arrest him, but Muhaymin protested, seeking assurances about what would happen to his dog. At least six officers got on top of Muhaymin to hold him down, with some putting their knees on his neck and head over a period of nearly eight minutes.
Muhaymin, a 43-year-old experiencing homelessness and mental health issues, repeatedly pleaded for help and said he could not breathe.
This was how Muhaymin died. The video, like so many others, is excruciating to watch.
A police investigation determined the officers’ actions were “in policy,” and county prosecutors found no behavior that warranted criminal prosecution – though advocates, including Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia, have made calls to reopen the investigation. That left his family with only one option to seek justice: civil court.
Muhaymin’s sister filed a wrongful death suit, and the city approved a $5 million settlement in November. A judge even ruled that the individual officers involved aren’t entitled to qualified immunity for their conduct. But that is a rare outcome, and the officers still managed to avoid criminal accountability and continue in their jobs.
Unfortunately, there are many stories like Muhaymin’s, but because of the doctrine of qualified immunity, few families get their day in court, often in spite of egregious misconduct by government officials.
Aloe Blacc is a Grammy nominated, American singer-songwriter and philanthropist.
The point is not whether officials acted unforgivably, but whether a victim’s loved ones have an opportunity to plead their case in an impartial venue. Officers should have to answer to more than just their own department and the prosecutors who count on them. No one in America should be above the law.
Time for change
In an era when many believe big government is stripping away our civil rights, qualified immunity tramples our most basic right to a fair trial against government officials.
Qualified immunity isn’t in the Constitution. Instead, it was crafted by court decisions over the past five decades, starting in 1967 with Pierson v. Ray, that have mostly continued to expand this policy of shielding government employees from civil lawsuits.
Fatal police holds across the U.S.: George Floyd is not alone. ‘I can’t breathe’ uttered by dozens in fatal police holds across U.S.
There’s no reason it needs to be this way. Multiple bills have been introduced in Congress and in the states over the years to reform qualified immunity. Congress and state legislatures can act at any time to revise those rules. That action is way overdue. We need reform that gives everyone an equal chance to make their case.
Police and other government officials have a lot of responsibility, and like everyone else, they make mistakes. But creating a cultural and legal practice where their errors are buried also means they rarely have the opportunity to prove they acted with good intentions. This hurts everyone. And until it changes, we shouldn’t be surprised if faith in government continues to decline.
The history of supervised consumption sites in other countries proves that they save lives!
Excerpts from the Article:
In tears, Kailin See recounts a story that would not have been possible just weeks before.
A man addicted to heroin, who otherwise would have injected himself alone, visited one of the country’s first authorized locations to use drugs with supervision in early December. He had a job interview later that day, hoping to earn two paychecks by Christmas so he could afford gifts for his children, he told staffers at the Washington Heights site. But when he drew the drugs into his veins, he began to nod off and go pale, a sign of what could have been a lethal overdose. The trained workers sprang into action, giving him oxygen. He quickly came to, said See, one of the main organizers of the site.
The nation’s first legal overdose prevention centers opened in New York City on Nov. 30, 2021, as the number of U.S. overdose deaths continues to soar. In nondescript commercial buildings in Washington Heights and East Harlem, workers watch people use illegal drugs and step in when they overdose, a solution to the drug crisis once considered too fringe to operate in the open. Years of legal battles and debate delayed efforts by cities and states to supervised consumption sites, forcing the facilities to operate underground. These new locations, approved by the then-mayor of New York City, could spur a shift toward offering services nationwide, drug policy experts say. But these sites still present a tangled knot of concerns: The federal government has not approved overdose-prevention centers, still considered an untested concept, and neighbors worry about drawing crime to their area.
The Biden administration’s silence on the issue is not expected to halt potential sites supported by local officials. Now that New York City has claimed the title of first, more could be planned, experts say.
In a 12-month period that ended in April 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, an all-time high in a crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, when many were isolated. The people who use the privately funded sites, operated by the nonprofit OnPoint NYC, say they otherwise would have used those drugs by themselves at a park, public restroom, subway station or at home, according to organizers’ review of intake paperwork.
Since the authorized service began operating Nov. 30, organizers say workers have reversed 76 overdoses, a small victory at a time when the nation is reporting a record number of fatal overdoses amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sam Rivera, OnPoint NYC’s executive director, recalls a time when clean-needle programs were stigmatized. Seeing overdose victims treated at the prevention sites today, he said, is “absolutely mind-blowing.”
Sam Rivera, the nonprofit’s head, is often reminded of taking clean needles to what were called “shooting galleries” in the 1990s.
At that time, clean-needle programs were stigmatized, recalled the now 59-year-old New Jersey resident. Now they are endorsed by the federal government as safe.
“I saw an entire society change, an entire city change, when folks were given the opportunity to use clean syringes,” Rivera said.
For decades, Rivera has carried the overdose antidote naloxone with him, running from his office or jumping out of his car with a vial when he heard of an overdose, finding people at a point when oxygen was no longer reaching their brain, a critical stage.
Now, when he hears of an overdose at the nonprofit’s sites, Rivera watches as the staff helps the overdose victim. At the prevention centers, the overdose is reversed so quickly that many people are still conscious. The sites have called 911 for medical help once since their opening, at a time when the city estimates overdoses cost the health-care system $50 million annually for emergency medical service calls, emergency department visits and hospitalizations.
“To see it live is absolutely mind-blowing,” Rivera said, “especially the interaction with the participant who is thanking us in that moment.”
Those who oppose these facilities say they may actually lessen the incentive for participants to enter treatment and recovery.
People still use drugs outside of the centers, and there is little data about those people’s risk of fatally overdosing, said David Murray, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.
He argues that the resources would be better used for treatment programs.
“The goal to reduce overdose deaths is very laudable, but they seem to have problems demonstrating that that’s actually the outcome,” Murray said.
Keith Humphreys, an addiction researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine, questions the scalability of intervening when someone overdoses, when nearly 1 in 5 Americans used illicit drugs in 2018, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
“Will it be a game-changer?” Humphreys said. “Hell, no. It’s a pretty marginal effort.”
In New York City, the organizers of the sites hope that research conducted at the centers will change critics’ minds.
“If people aren’t alive, they can’t participate in treatment,” said Rivera, executive director of OnPoint NYC.
At the East Harlem site, all the accoutrements a drug user could need are neatly arranged in black trays on a folding table: needles of different sizes, cotton gauze, elastic tourniquets. Users need only bring their illegal drugs.
Although the site appears clinical, the staff tries to make the users comfortable, offering steaming towels when people come in from the waiting area — referred to as “the living room.” Above the defibrillator hanging on the back wall, a mural promises “THIS SITE SAVES LIVES.”
Yucef Colley works as an interventionist at the East Harlem site, keeping tabs on people through mirrors installed in each pod. One of the interventionists on guard was Yucef Colley, who started working at the facility at a time when people used drugs unmonitored in the bathrooms. Colley said he would find some people “to the point they are so blue you’re thinking there’s no way they’re going to come back.”
Now each pod is equipped with mirrors for the interventionists to see if people overdose.
For 61-year-old Bronx resident Danny Micco, the site is a far better alternative to his usual spots, “streets, corners, wherever,” to use heroin and cocaine.
“I was going wherever I could, which is not good,” Micco said, outside the East Harlem facility. “With this,” he said, motioning to the door outside, “you have a place to go, which makes all the difference in the world.”
Sitting in the nonprofit’s East Harlem office, See, a Canadian American dual citizen who worked for sites in Canada and unlawful locations in the United States, shared her worries: What if people who use drugs felt skeptical about the group’s intentions, fearing it was a poaching ground for police? Or rather, what if police were waiting at the door?
While unauthorized sites have operated underground in the United States, such a program has never been able to open legally. When an attempt was made to open one in Philadelphia, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department blocked the effort in court. The lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court after the Supreme Court declined to review the case.
“This is such a historic moment for the U.S.” See said. “We couldn’t have known, because there’s really no example really to point to in the United States.”
Although the Justice Department under President Biden has stepped back from Trump’s aggressive legal challenges against sites opening, the administration has not taken a position on the issue and probably will not in the short term, said Lindsay LaSalle, a policy expert at the Drug Policy Alliance. LaSalle said she thinks that taking a position on supervised consumption sites is not “very high on the priority list for the administration,” which has faced a “wartime effort” against covid-19. She added that Biden’s history is another wrinkle. As a senator, he sponsored the “crack house” statute, which made it illegal for anyone to operate a facility for the purpose of using illegal drugs, a provision later used by Trump’s Justice Department to try to prevent supervised consumption sites from opening.
“I think that New York opening will put additional pressure on elected officials and government officials to take heed of what the advocates have been saying,” LaSalle said.
Approved drug-use sites have operated in other nations including Canada and Australia for years, with a spate of research showing that no one has died at such a facility and that the service enhances access to primary health care, limits the spread of diseases such as HIV and helps reduce the public nuisance of used needles discarded in neighborhoods. Scientists say no studies have found that these sites increase drug use or crime in the surrounding areas.
Still, American researchers won’t be able to learn more about the impact of these sites on their communities until more such facilities open.
Rhode Island legalized safe consumption facilities in July and is developing regulations for them, and similar legislation is under consideration in California. San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D), who this month declared a state of emergency in a neighborhood beset by drug use, has said a facility could be opened in her city as early as spring.
Alex Kral, an epidemiologist with RTI International who has researched one of the underground U.S. sites, cited benefits that authorized locations can offer. The East Harlem site has a doctor, social workers and holistic health workers, as well as a garden, showers, laundry machines and a meditation room.
Kral, who visited the New York locations before they opened, praised organizers’ efforts to inform not just participants but also others who tour the sites, possibly inspiring officials who see the sites’ success at reversing overdoses.
“People are trying to see if the sky has fallen or not,” Kral said three weeks after the sites opened. “Did the sky fall? No, it didn’t fall.”
Kral said the research conducted at authorized locations can offer more information about how much of a help these facilities are to their users. Organizers say they are collecting data that has not yet been reviewed by researchers.
More than 470 people have signed up as clients for the two sites, which have been used more than 3,300 times since the end of December, See said. Four of the city’s district attorneys praised the centers as “a model for other cities to follow” in a BuzzFeed News opinion piece, giving a green light for continued operations.
After decades of drug users’ hiding in isolation, fearing their illicit activities may stigmatize them, See and the other operators of the sites imagine a world where people who use drugs can gather, not just looking out for each other but also even helping one another through their drug use. People who use drugs have long learned misconceptions through word of mouth or online, further endangering themselves.
“I know this is going to sound controversial, and a little counterintuitive,” See said, “but we have to teach people to be the best drug users they can be while they’re using.”
Meanwhile, Rivera sees a future where sites like these will open across New York City, at least with a presence in every borough.
He said that could address the concerns of community organizers, such as the Greater Harlem Coalition, that oppose the sites in their own neighborhoods but might be assuaged by seeing others open throughout the city. The Greater Harlem Coalition lobbied against a site being opened in the predominantly Black neighborhood, which the coalition says is oversaturated with drug treatment clinics. Coalition leaders say they think the locations would become magnets for drug dealers soliciting customers.
Syderia Asberry-Chresfield, a co-founder of the Coalition, said data shows people who use these facilities come from elsewhere in the city.
Such criticism probably will be heard in other cities as local governments approve new sites.
Rivera argues that the staffers’ close connections with the participants allow them to gain trust to the point that when someone expresses an interest in treatment, they can encourage the person in that direction. Some of the staffers in the sites are in recovery themselves and have helped others find assistance, Rivera said.
“We can’t force people into treatment,” he said. “It doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work. But when they’re ready, we’re ready.”
Weeks after recounting the tale of the job seeker, See was walking near her office and spotted him working at a street stall.
“The victories may be small, but they’re still victories,” she said, her eyes welling up as she recalled the man’s saying that his interview had gone well. “He survived, and he’s still trying.”
Her Son Needed Help. First, He Had to Help the Police. Working as a police informant can be deadly—and people with a history of drug use are at extra risk of relapse or overdose.
Another tragedy with our “war on drugs”!
Excerpts from the Article:
When Troy Howlett collapsed and died in his bedroom in Charles City, Virginia, on the morning of July 30, 2018, his mother, Donna Watson, was on vacation. It was a Monday, and 31-year-old Howlett was starting a new job that day. Watson, knowing her son was nervous about it, kept checking in, growing more worried as she got no response. Later that evening, having run out of reasons why her son wouldn’t or couldn’t call or text back, she asked a friend to look for him. When the friend found her son’s body, he told her it looked like his hands were locked in prayer.
Watson assumed her son died from a stroke or aneurysm possibly tied to his history of substance use. For 13 years, Howlett had struggled with an addiction resulting from a traumatic accident he suffered in high school. (Run over by a car, he became addicted to prescription pain pills. He did eight stints in rehab, Watson told me.) By the spring of 2018, Howlett was living with Watson and had been off drugs for close to six months, regaining some weight and doing well, she said. But one night, after meeting up with some old friends in Hopewell, a small, nearby town where Howlett was born and raised, the temptation grew too strong—Howlett relapsed and passed out behind the steering wheel of his parked station wagon, Watson told me. “People with substance-abuse issues—it’s so hard to be around that type of stuff and not do it,” Watson said. “So, he did that night.”
By the time Watson arrived at the emergency room, Howlett was awake and speaking with officers from the Hopewell Police Department. On probation at the time, with drug-related charges and another court date looming, Howlett was offered a choice by police officers, Watson remembers. He could either wait out his court date in jail or work with the police as a confidential drug informant. For Howlett, who was terrified of jail, there really was no choice, his mother told me. So he reluctantly agreed.
Working as an informant comes with great risk. Harmful and violent outcomes, including a violent retaliatory death (which Howlett feared, according to his mother) aren’t uncommon, despite assurances from law enforcement. The inherent secrecy of police investigations and a lack of uniform data collection make it hard to assess the true toll of informant work on people’s lives, but stories like Howlett’s do surface. The case of Rachel Hoffman, a young college student murdered in Florida while working as a drug informant, is likely the most cited instance of what can go wrong. But being found out and killed isn’t the only risk for informants with substance use disorder. As law enforcement around the country cracks down on an opioid and fentanyl epidemic of tragic proportions, informants who are users are particularly vulnerable. Working with police on drug cases puts them in a situation where relapse or deadly overdose is not just possible, but likely.
Luke William Hunt, a former FBI agent who’s now an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Alabama, told me that given the tremendous amount of leverage police have over drug informants, it’s not always clear that informants have a “real choice” when it comes to working with police. “Many are not well-versed in what they’re getting themselves into, the legal ramifications, and also the potential risks that they’re going to be subjected to,” Hunt said.
One former informant in Hopewell, who spoke with me on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, worked with the local police in hopes that the father of one of her children, who was awaiting trial, would receive a reduced sentence. “They came to me and said, ‘If you help us, we’ll help him,’” she recalled. “I didn’t want the father of my kid to be fucked up.”
At the time, she was pregnant with another child, and ended up working with detectives from the Hopewell Police Department—making controlled buys of heroin and crack cocaine—for less than a month. Having struggled with substance use disorder in the past, she was not using drugs before she was approached by police, she said. But while working as an informant, she relapsed, and was ultimately arrested on an unrelated charge. She was forced to give birth while shackled to a hospital bed, she said.
Five years later, she lives in continuous fear of the people she informed on. “I never saw anybody get locked up,” she said. And the father of her child, who she set out to help, is still incarcerated.
Even if a drug informant stands to gain from the arrangement, Hunt questions whether most of these leveraged bargains should even exist. “If you put someone in a situation where they have serious risk of hurting themselves through relapse or getting shot, or stabbed, or robbed—even if there’s a potential benefit for them and they’re willing to take that risk—that just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing we do, given basic commitments to the sanctity of life,” Hunt said.
The morning after Howlett died, Watson, back home, found a text message that had been sent to her son’s phone on the day he died. The message, which she shared with me, read: “I reached out to the CA just waiting on a reply.”
She knew her son had been making controlled buys of heroin, working directly with a detective from the Hopewell Police Department. Confident the message was from the detective—and that “CA” stood for the commonwealth attorney who she believed would have to sign off on her son’s informant work—Watson replied.
“This is troys mom,” she wrote. “Troy passed away yesterday. They dont know how yet. Thinking possibly a aneurysm, stroke, or maybe a seizure. He was so stressed about all this court mess.”
Watson received a response from the number within an hour.
“We are so sorry for your loss,” the message read. “We were doing everything in our power to help him get the court mess behind him. He was working extremely hard with us and we are so sad about this news.”
The Hopewell Police Department declined to comment.
But seven months later, Watson found out the true cause of her son’s death: an overdose. “It was like he died all over again,” Watson told me. According to his death certificate, Howlett died due to combined fentanyl, acetylfentanyl, and despropionylfentanyl toxicity. “He snorted it and it killed him,” Watson told me.
In 2020, Watson filed a pair of lawsuits asking for $13 million in damages. In the wrongful death complaint against the Hopewell Police Department, its retired police chief, two officers, and Hopewell Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Newman, Watson alleges that the defendants made her son purchase drugs “with full knowledge” of his substance use disorder, which included the use of “opiates, including heroin and other illegal drugs.” (Newman did not respond to a request for comment.) She also claims that the defendants exposed him to illegal drugs that contained fentanyl, and that given the fact that her son had failed drug tests while working as an informant, Howlett must have been using some of the drugs that he was purchasing. (The second lawsuit was related to the arrest of Howlett’s best friend during her son’s funeral, which ruined the service, Watson said.)
In another series of text messages from Howlett’s phone that Watson shared with me, her son, in apparent desperation, asks not to have his bond revoked and says that he has more people he can inform on. A message sent back to his phone read, “Ok I will try!”
“Thank you and again I just slipped up I will not fail another drug test this was the first drug test I failed I just hope they can give me another chance and I promise I won’t feel another one [sic],” Howlett replied.
In November, Watson’s lawsuits were dismissed by the Circuit Court. Her attorney has filed a notice of appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
While Watson has turned to the courts for restitution, she’s also looking to the Virginia state legislature. Some states have adopted legislation to address the problem of unreliability of informants and the wrongful convictions that often result from their misinformation, according to Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Harvard Law School and author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice. “But those reforms tended not to address the problem of the use of informants who have substance use disorders,” Natapoff told me, “either from the perspective of innocent people who were convicted on that basis or from the perspective of the vulnerable informants themselves, who were often pressured into becoming informants at risk to themselves or risk to their recovery, or had their addiction worsen in their performance of their jobs.”
In recent years, the issue has gained more attention, and today, the “counterproductive injustice of pressuring people with substance use disorders into being informants to work off their drug charges in ways that threaten their sobriety” is more apparent to legislators, Natapoff believes. “Ten years ago, people were not engaged with that particular destructive aspect of drug enforcement,” she said.
Rachel Hoffman’s death in 2008 ultimately led to legislation, Rachel’s Law, that regulates how informants are recruited and handled in Florida; today, law enforcement agencies in Florida must have policies and procedures that consider a potential informant’s substance abuse or history of substance abuse when assessing their suitability for the work. In Minnesota, Matthew’s Law, which was adopted in 2021, will lead to the creation of a model policy that police departments and law enforcement agencies will use when working with informants. The bill, named after a man who overdosed on heroin that police ordered him to buy, places greater limits on the use of informants with substance use disorder—barring the use of informants that are receiving inpatient or outpatient treatment for substance abuse and those who have experienced an overdose within the past year. It would also require treatment and prevention referrals to informants with known substance-use issues. Mississippi and Pennsylvania have also enacted related legislation.
Watson shared with me a draft of a bill she hopes Virginia will adopt in 2022, which she believes will lead to more accountability and protection for informants like her son. The legislation would establish a model policy for the use of confidential drug informants and would require probation and parole officers be given notice of a parolee or probationer’s work as an informant. Additionally, no informant could work with police if they violated the terms of their parole. If adopted, commonwealth attorneys would also have to give formal approval, and no informant would be allowed to unlawfully use or possess any controlled substance. Watson has been working on the bill with Virginia House Delegate Rodney Willett and plans to testify before the legislature in 2022.
One of the “great sins” of the informant market is how it treats vulnerable people, Natapoff told me, noting the lack of a “protective ethos” not just for informants themselves, but also for victims of informants threatened by wrongful conviction. From informants with substance use disorder to immigrants, young people, and people struggling with mental health issues, “all these people are put at risk by the cavalier attitude towards informant safety,” she said.
Watson believes a “protective ethos” or established protocol may have saved her son and other informants like him. “These were the throwaways,” she said. “This is somebody that they couldn’t care less about. But what they didn’t know is: He was my baby.”
Part of my prison time included some D O C “classes”. With the exception of some of the education ones, most are a waste of time, with nobody staying on topic.
I cannot remember the class I was in when some young fool blurted out “Everyone respects a shooter!” The recent spate of shootings in Philly reminded me of this.
Well, that was too much, so I raised my hand and when the teacher called on me I said “What a load of bullshit; any hot headed young punk can pull a trigger!” . I think I added “only wrong thinking people say things like that.” If looks could kill, from the idiot who said “Everyone respects a shooter!”, I would not be here.
The teacher, a Ms. Eagle, said: “Well, Mr. Abraham, you have a point there.”
I had no incident with the fool because I had some very large prisoner friends who I had helped with legal work, and they kept an eye on me.
One of the problems with not legalizing drugs is that it is unregulated = users never know what they are getting, and many die, like Mrs. Goodwin’s daughter in this article.
Excerpts from the Article:
Brooke Goodwin came home one night last March after being out with friends. She had just turned 23 the day before, had a good job and was planning to go away with friends the following weekend. Her mother, whose bedroom is next door to the kitchen, heard her daughter get some food and go to bed.
But Brooke never came downstairs the next day. Her older sister found her in her room. She had overdosed on a toxic mix of the powerful opioid fentanyl cut with xylazine, an animal sedative that is making its way into the illicit drug supply, particularly in the Northeast.
Her death has “just ripped us to shreds,” said her mother, Deb Walker, who has four other children.
“I didn’t even know Brooke was using drugs. I know absolutely she did not know that that was in there,” she said.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this autumn, xylazine was involved in fatal drug overdoses in 23 states in 2019, with the highest rate — 67% — happening in the Northeast. The animal sedative used in veterinary medicine to sedate cows, horses, sheep and other animals is being added to other drugs, mostly fentanyl and heroin, as a cutting agent, officials said.
But unlike opioids, there’s no antidote like naloxone, also called Narcan, specific to a xylazine overdose.
The animal tranquilizer is also not a controlled substance and not approved for human use. When used in illicitly produced opioids, xylazine may increase the risk for fatal overdose, the CDC warns.
“If somebody’s overdosing on xylazine or on heroin cut with xylazine, that naloxone is not going to have much of an effect on the part of the overdose that’s driven by the xylazine,” said Dr. Scott Hadland, an addiction doctor and chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston.
Supportive measures can be used if a person is attended to early enough, such as resuscitation, getting them fluids and other sorts of hospital care, Hadland said. “But this is much more difficult to manage out in the community because it’s inevitably going to be an overdose that involves multiple substances including opioids,” he said.
While the rate of overdose deaths where xylazine was listed as a cause of death was low at 1.2%, the report states that the animal tranquilizer’s detection may be underestimated. That’s because routine post-death toxicology tests “might not have included tests for xylazine, and current testing protocols for xylazine are not standard.”
“It has been going on for a time but there’s also a lot of indications from local authorities that the problem is worsening, particularly here in the Northeast,” said Hadland.
One or more other drugs were also listed as the cause of the overdose deaths, including heroin and cocaine, with fentanyl being the most common, according to the CDC report.
“Fentanyl we know to be in the drug supply. We know it’s in the heroin supply, so often when you think you’re buying heroin, you’re in fact getting fentanyl. I think that’s what’s happening with xylazine,” Hadland said. “You think you’re getting heroin and you’re getting something that’s cut with xylazine.”
Nationally, overdose deaths have been rising for more than two decades but surged 30% in the latest year. Health officials say the jump is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and a more dangerous drug supply.
In the small rural state of Vermont, the number of fatal overdoses involving xylazine combined with opioids tripled from five in 2020 to 15 in the first seven months of this year, according to a report from the Vermont Department of Health.
Lt. Casey Daniell, commander of the Vermont State Police drug unit, said it’s common to see xylazine in the test results for the drugs that police are purchasing undercover.
“I think the biggest issue is the fact that it’s not a controlled substance, so there’s no regulation on it,” he said. “It’s no different than aspirin,” so people cannot be charged for distributing it.
Walker says her daughter was poisoned. Drugs and addiction had come up many times in their conversations, Walker said, because Goodwin was helping friends who were using. “She was trying to help them out. She did everything she could to try and help them get clean and they pulled her down,” Walker said while visiting Goodwin’s grave earlier this month.
The more information that gets out there about xylazine, the better, she said.
“There are so many people that would like to not be (using) that haven’t been able to beat it. Those might be the people that would actually hear this and understand this and it might help and that would be super,” Walker said.
Brooke died on March 14, 2021, two days after her birthday and a day before her mother’s. She “enjoyed her dog, photography, road trips and investigating the supernatural,” according to her obituary.
She was buried the day before Halloween, her favorite holiday, and people who attended were encouraged to dress up. Now her 9-year-old sisters, who are twins, are asking their mother if the family will get Brooke a Christmas present.
Her friend, Haley Decelle, says Brooke was “kind, calm and level-headed” and the pair had gone on frequent road trips and had matching tattoos. Decelle is pregnant now.
“It sucks because we always talked about doing all this stuff together when one of us got pregnant,” she said. “And now I don’t get to do it.”
Thanks to our “take no shit” A G, Kathy Jennings, Delaware families will get more financial justice from the Sackler family!
Excerpts from the Article:
While hundreds of Delaware residents died from opioid overdoses, the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma – the company responsible for creating and manufacturing the popular painkiller OxyContin – profited by the billions.
It’s a storyline that many have been reminded of with the recent release of Hulu’s “Dopesick,” which brought renewed attention to both the people who suffered from addiction, as well as the family behind creating and selling this addictive drug. Delaware’s story is not much different than the ones depicted in the series.
But a recent court decision may prevent the Sackler family, founders and owners of Purdue Pharma, from avoiding the financial effects of lawsuits brought against the drug company and them personally.
See DECISION, Page 6A
That could mean more money for Delaware, where officials have long said the agreement to leave the Sackler family protected from liability doesn’t provide enough financial support for the harm they caused.
“The Sacklers have to suffer,” said Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings. “It’s just wrong. We grow up knowing right from wrong … and this is just wrong. They can’t buy absolution with money they took out of the company and profits made off the deaths of other people.”
A judge determined late Thursday in a 142-page ruling that the family couldn’t be given immunity in the bankruptcy filing by Purdue Pharma and were therefore not protected against ongoing lawsuits against them. The company said it plans to appeal.
It’s through the work of eight states in particular – Delaware, included – that the initial ruling was even appealed in the first place. The driver has been that the agreement does not begin to require enough money for what states, municipalities, and families have lost in the decades that OxyContin has been on the market.
Jennings compared the Sackler family’s actions to “robbing the cash register” and then trying to use only a portion of the money they took to pay for their role in this epidemic.
Jennings said the Sackler family – valued at about $14 billion in 2015 – removed so much money from Purdue Pharma that the company was forced to declare bankruptcy.
“$10.4 billion of that came from them looting the company,” Jennings said, “and now they’re trying to buy absolution in bankruptcy court.”
The ultimate goal is more money for all states suing Purdue Pharma and the family behind it, especially Delaware, which Jennings said is “one of the highest harmed states in the country.”
The pandemic hasn’t helped Delaware’s struggle. Last year, Delaware lost 447 people to fatal overdoses, a continued increase over 2019 and previous years. According to the state’s public tracker, 326 have died this year – though toxicology reports and findings often mean this number is weeks behind.
Though money can’t bring back the hundreds of lives lost to addiction, some parents look at these lawsuits as an opportunity for some justice for the deaths of their children.
For years, MaryBeth Cichocki has been an outspoken advocate for justice and change after the death of her son, Matt, to an opioid overdose. She said she burst into tears after learning of the judge’s decision. “I just thought, Thank you, God, that our loved ones did not die in vain,” she said. “They [the Sacklers] have to be held accountable. … We need to hold people accountable.”
It’s not about the money either, Cichocki said, despite knowing many families who mortgaged their homes in order to pay for their child’s treatment – only to ultimately lose them.
“I can’t put a price on Matt and all the future things we could have shared,” she said. “There is no price on that.”
Many states are using lawsuits as a way to recoup the millions spent on addressing the opioid epidemic – and put those dollars into treating it and preventing it from happening again. Earlier this year, Delaware reached a settlement that is slated to bring more than $100 million to the state from a sweeping $26 billion settlement with four opioid manufacturers and distributors. A commission created this year to distribute those funds will determine how that money will be spent, with a focus on maximizing harm reduction, according to the law.
The state also has hopes that these won’t be the last settlement funds to come to Delaware.
“It’s a long battle,” Jennings said. “We have to be in for the long haul.”
The Whole Story
Good. The Sacklers should be personally liable for their greedy homicides. They are lucky they are not in jail.
Excerpts from the Article:
A federal judge rejected OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement of thousands of lawsuits over the opioid epidemic Thursday because of a provision that would protect members of the Sackler family from facing litigation of their own.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in New York found that federal bankruptcy law does not give the bankruptcy judge who had accepted the plan the authority to grant that kind of release for people who are not declaring bankruptcy themselves.
In a statement Thursday night, the company said that it would appeal the ruling and at the same time try to forge another plan that its creditors will agree to.
Purdue said the ruling will not hurt the company’s operations, but it will make it harder for company and Sackler money to be used to fight the opioid crisis as the legal fight continues.
“It will delay, and perhaps end, the ability of creditors, communities, and individuals to receive billions in value to abate the opioid crisis,” said Steve Miller, chairman of the Purdue board of directors. “These funds are needed now more than ever as overdose rates hit record-highs, and we are confident that we can successfully appeal this decision and deliver desperately needed funds to the communities and individuals suffering in the midst of this crisis.”
Representatives of the two branches of the family who own the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the descendants of Mortimer Sackler, one of the late brothers who owned the company, had no comment.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who was among a handful of state officials seeking to have the deal undone, called the ruling “a seismic victory for justice and accountability.” Tong said the ruling will “re-open the deeply flawed Purdue bankruptcy and force the Sackler family to confront the pain and devastation they have caused.”
Purdue sought bankruptcy protection in 2019 as it faced thousands of lawsuits claiming the company pushed doctors to prescribe OxyContin, helping spark an opioid crisis that has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the last two decades.
Through the bankruptcy court, it worked out a deal with its creditors. Members of the Sackler family would give up ownership of the company, which would transform into a different kind of entity that would still sell opioids — but with profits being used to fight the crisis. It would also develop new anti-addiction and anti-overdose drugs and provide them at little or no cost.
Sackler family members also would contribute $4.5 billion in cash and charitable assets as part of an overall deal that could be worth $10 billion, including the value of the new drugs, if they’re brought to market.
All of the defendants should get life sentences!
Excerpts from the Article:
A second man has pleaded guilty to charges tied to the kidnapping and murder of a Glasgow woman and the shooting of a 6-year-old boy in 2017.
Ryan Bacon, who rapped under the name Buck 50, is accused alongside five other men of taking part in a failed plot to assassinate a rival drug dealer when they shot then-6-year-old Jashown Banner after kidnapping and killing 28-year-old Keyonna Perkins.
Edson Bostic, Bacon’s attorney, said his client did not agree to testify against his codefendants. A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney for the District of Delaware declined to comment.
The murder of Perkins and shooting of Banner spawned two multi-defendant criminal prosecutions in recent years: the pending case against Bacon and his co-defendants in federal court as well as a drug racketeering case against others that already went to trial in state court.
Last year, Dontae Sykes, one of Bacon’s co-defendants, pleaded guilty to stalking and kidnapping charges in the federal case.
In 2019, Sykes detailed his part in the kidnapping and shooting as a witness in the associated drug racketeering case in state court. That trial accused a Wilmington drug dealer of funding a bounty on a rival drug dealer that ultimately led to Perkins’ murder.
Sykes testified that he and his friends were feuding with another Wilmington drug dealer over pornographic insults, a pistol-whipping and a stolen neck chain. He said a bounty was placed on their rival’s head. He described in detail how his co-defendants stalked the man using social media.
He said they kidnapped Perkins and used her phone to further stalk the man, shooting at him and missing as he walked along Route 896. Later, Skyes’ and Bacon’s co-defendants would botch another assassination attempt in Wilmington when they shot the 6-year-old, prosecutors said.
Sykes told that jury that he and Bacon took Perkins to Maryland. He said Bacon shot her. Federal authorities have not said who they believe the gunman was.
Bacon’s co-defendants, Michael D. Pritchett, Dion Oliver, Maurice Cooper and Teres Tinnin, are set to face trial in January. All face potential life sentences.
Yet another call for action. The legislature must make ending these deaths a priority!
Excerpts from the Article:
In the first episode of Hulu’s docudrama Dopesick, an attorney questions Dr. Samuel Finnix, a general practitioner in a small mining town in Virginia played by Michael Keaton. He asks Finnix, “Did more than 1% of your patients become addicted to OxyContin?” Finnix answers, “!can’t believe how many of them are dead now.”
It’s hard to believe, but the more than 2,300 people in Delaware who have died of drug overdoses since 2016 exceeds the number of people who have died of COVID-19 in Delaware since the beginning of the pandemic. Yet, because it is a slower-moving epidemic, the opioid crisis in our state has not received the same level of attention. This is even though in 2019, Delaware had the second-highest number of overdoses per capita in the U.S. after West Virginia.
Shockingly, drug overdose deaths in the United States rose nearly 30% in the past year, according to provisional data recently released by the National Center for Health Statistics. More than 100,000 people died from a drug overdose between April 2020 and April 2021, up from 78,000 the year before and nearly double the deaths five years ago. Delaware’s overdose rates actually increased at a higher rate than the national average from 2016 to 2019.
So, what’s to be done here? Certainly, the state has mobilized its resources by creating a Behavioral Health Consortium headed by Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long; standing up a helpline and website — https://www.helpisherede.com — and Bridge Clinics to increase access to services; passing laws directing more resources to treatment through taxing opioids; and successfully suing pharmaceutical companies to obtain some compensation to assist in funding treatment services.
Consultants have studied the system of care and made recommendations; more are coming. Yet, the one key recommendation of the Pew Charitable Trust’s 2019 “Substance Use Disorder Treatment Policy Recommendations for the State of Delaware” has not been acted upon. That is, “to fund reimbursement for care coordination for Substance Use Disorder treatment with a rate comparable to surrounding states and informed by evidence of the full cost of such services.”
Although a rate study has finally been completed, it hasn’t been published, and no action has been taken to increase the rates for the levels of care that, by law and by contracts with the managed care organizations) that fund most services, are supposed to be available for treatment. Inaction on reimbursement rates has resulted in the loss of treatment capacity in the state, and it threatens to further reduce options for treatment. In the last year, the state of Delaware lost 80 residential treatment beds in two facilities that provided care designed to assist Medicaid patients whose substance use disorder was so out of control that they needed 24-hour treatment. Up to 820 Delawareans with the highest level of need for treatment were able to be served in these facilities each year prior to their closures.
The tragic consequences of the state’s failure to provide adequate funding for community-based SUD treatment are seen in the obituary pages of our newspapers. Too many families have suffered the loss of loved ones; too many of them have given testimony in Legislative Hall about deaths of sons, daughters, and other family members that could have been prevented if treatment had been available when it was needed.
The time for action has come. The rate study needs to be published and the General Assembly should appropriate the resources to ensure that it is fully funded. Anyone living in Delaware who is ready for treatment should be able to get the services that are most appropriate to their needs, so that we can stem the tide of deaths in our state.
Beware! Truly successful treatment programs are rare indeed! This one is a total rip off! Years ago I tried to find out their success rate. They have no idea; note that they cite general statistics, not those pertinent to their programs.
More than 85% of all crimes are addiction related!
Excerpts from the Article:
The advertisements are everywhere. On television, a sleek black sedan pulls up to a sprawling estate with a rolling green lawn as a mother recounts how Recovery Centers of America saved her child from drugs. On Facebook, radio, highway billboards, and commuter trains, people are urged to call the company’s instantly memorable hotline: 1-800-RECOVERY.
The marketing blitz and an infusion of private equity money have helped make Recovery Centers of America into the self-described fastest-growing addiction treatment provider in the country. Launched less than three years ago by a high-end real estate developer, it’s part of a rush of entrepreneurs who see opportunity in the treatment business as the opioid crisis sweeps the country.
But an investigation by STAT and the The Boston Globe has uncovered evidence of shoddy care and turmoil inside the walls of the company’s two Massachusetts treatment centers. This report is based on interviews with more than a dozen former and current employees, internal RCA documents, and state investigative reports — depicting a company that spends lavishly on facilities and marketing while skimping on giving patients basic care.
At a company that promotes itself as the new frontier of addiction treatment and charges an average of $24,000 a month, some patients were not getting basic counseling. They were often unsupervised. The staff has complained repeatedly to management and the state that they weren’t able to keep the patients safe. And patients were found to be having sex.
RCA operates luxury residential and outpatient facilities in five northeastern states, featuring original artwork, custom furniture, and manicured gardens. In Massachusetts alone, the company has spent nearly $50 million to buy and renovate a country inn in the rolling hills of Westminster and a former hospital in Danvers.
“RCA is 100 percent committed to our patients and their paths to recovery,” according to a statement from the company. “At the very core of our facilities and mission is a steadfast dedication to the highest standards and regulations, and the care and safety of every individual we treat and employ.”
In Westminster, patients sleep on Serta Prestige Suite II Pillow Top mattresses selected after company executives tested more than 30 brands. Each day, fresh linens are carefully folded and placed on the end of patient beds. Every room has a flat-screen television and private bathroom. But when state regulators inspected the facility in February, they found that essential services like individual counseling and group therapy sessions were not regularly being provided, worker training was lacking, the facility was understaffed, and patients were not properly supervised.
One staff member complained to the state that patients were trading their medication for financial and physical favors. Staff members grew so incensed about conditions inside the facility that one wrote an inflammatory email to management.
“Our patient to staff ratio is exhausting for us and non therapeutic for the patients,” wrote one employee in a January email to management at Westminster obtained by STAT and the Globe. “The patients who should in no way even still be with us are taking advantage of our lack of staff by turning us into a drug hotel and brothel rather than a recovery center and the ones who are with us to make an attempt at meaningful recovery are feeling ignored, stressed, and unprepared for after their stay.”
If you know anyone in there or considering them, YOU should not do business with RCA. Here is the rest of this long horror story: