Excellent article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald says the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the Whatcom County Jail and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly denying inmates with opioid use disorder access to medication.
The lawsuit filed in Seattle in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington alleges the jail’s policy of refusing to provide access to medication assisted treatment to treat opioid addiction violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Pratt reports that Opioid Use Disorder is classified as a disability under the ADA, and is also a recognized substance use disorder. A person qualifies as having opioid use disorder if they meet two or more criteria that reflect impaired health function over a 12-month period.
The lawsuit alleges that the jail has a policy for giving medication, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex), or methadone, to pregnant women suffering from opioid use disorder, but has no policy for non-pregnant individuals, forcing them to go into withdrawal once they’re booked.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of two inmates who were receiving medication assisted treatment before they became incarcerated. However, the ACLU is seeking class-action status for all non-pregnant people incarcerated who have Opioid Use Disorder.
“Defendants’ policy and practice of denying medications to treat opioid use disorder to non-pregnant individuals is both dangerous and discriminatory,” according to the complaint filed in the case.” It singles out a particularly vulnerable group of disabled people, forces them to suffer unnecessarily from painful opioid withdrawal, and subjects them to an increased risk of relapse and overdose death.”
Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said Thursday he believed several other jails in Washington state are under scrutiny by the ACLU for opioid treatment. He said the county had not been served with the lawsuit yet as of Thursday afternoon, but noted the ACLU has 20 days to do so.
Elfo said the 2019 opening of a new 32-bed crisis triage center for people suffering from mental health and substance use disorders will provide an alternative to taking people who use opioids to jail, and give them access to treatment.
“This is something that’s been asked for for 20 years. I’m glad it’s something that’s finally on the horizon,” he said.
The project will expand the current Crisis Triage Center and will be on Division Street in Bellingham. It will cost up to an estimated $9.5 million.
First, kudos to Ms. Pratt for her excellent and timely reporting.
Second, lawsuits like this reveal the pressing need for Whatcom County to construct a new jail. A larger facility with upgraded services would not only better serve the needs of the incarcerated defendants, but also the jail staff and police officers who work there on a daily basis.
I’ve heard the arguments against a new jail. Clearly – and unfortunately – the community has voted down numerous proposals. What most people don’t understand, however, is that the current jail is decrepit, unsafe and virtually inhumane. As a result, we see riots and suicides happen at the jail with unsettling frequency.
Good luck to the ACLU. Hopefully, they’ll be instrumental toward making positive changes happen for the inmates and hardworking jail staff here in Whatcom County.
Impressive article by Kie Relyea of the Bellingham Herald discusses how the Whatcom County Council voted to join a growing legal fight against makers and wholesalers of prescription opioids, saying they have contributed to a public health crisis.
On Tuesday, the County Council decided to retain law firm Keller Rohrback in Seattle, which is representing a number of municipalities including Skagit, Pierce and King counties in Washington state.
The vote was 7-0.
“Pretty broad consensus it was a good thing to do for the county.”
-Council member Todd Donovan.
The law firm has so far filed lawsuits on behalf of five counties in the state, as well as the City of Tacoma.
Whatcom County isn’t paying the law firm, which will be compensated if there’s a judgment against the companies, Donovan said.
The county wants help responding to a public health crisis caused by opioids, according to Donovan.
“They are partially liable for over-prescribing these things and marketing them as non-addictive,” he said. “They should help us in bearing the cost.”
In a separate lawsuit filed in 2017, the state of Washington sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, accusing it of “fueling the opioid epidemic in Washington state.”
My opinion? GOOD. Opioids have turned many law-abiding and hardworking Americans into drug addicts. A substantial portion of my criminal defense practice is dedicated to helping clients who suffer from drug addictions which force them to commit crimes. You’d be amazed.
Contact my office if you, a friend or family member is addicted to opioids and charged with a crime. The defense of Diminished Capacity may apply. Under this defense, evidence of mental illness or disorder may be taken into consideration in determining whether the defendant had the capacity to form the intent to commit the crime. In some cases, drug addicts lack intent to commit crimes because they are acting under the compulsion of their addiction.
A recent Pew Study suggests that imprisoning drug offenders for longer prison sentences does not reduce drug problems in any given state. In other words, there is no statistical data showing a relationship between prison terms and drug misuse.
To test this, Pew compared state drug imprisonment rates with three important measures of drug problems— self-reported drug use (excluding marijuana), drug arrest, and overdose death—and found no statistically significant relationship between drug imprisonment and these indicators. In other words, higher rates of drug imprisonment did not translate into lower rates of drug use, arrests, or overdose deaths.
The study found that nearly 300,000 people are held in state and federal prisons in the United States for drug-law violations, up from less than 25,000 in 1980. These offenders served more time than in the past: Those who left state prisons in 2009 had been behind bars an average of 2.2 years, a 36 percent increase over 1990, while prison terms for federal drug offenders jumped 153 percent between 1988 and 2012, from about two to roughly five years.
The study said that as the U.S. confronts a growing epidemic of opioid misuse, policymakers and public health officials need a clear understanding of whether, how, and to what degree imprisonment for drug offenses affects the nature and extent of the nation’s drug problems. To explore this question, The Pew Charitable Trusts examined publicly available 2014 data from federal and state law enforcement, corrections, and health agencies. The analysis found no statistically significant relationship between state drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests.
The findings—which Pew sent to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in a letter dated June 19, 2017—reinforce a large body of prior research that cast doubt on the theory that stiffer prison terms deter drug misuse, distribution, and other drug-law violations. The evidence strongly suggests that policymakers should pursue alternative strategies that research shows work better and cost less.
“Although no amount of policy analysis can resolve disagreements about how much punishment drug offenses deserve, research does make clear that some strategies for reducing drug use and crime are more effective than others and that imprisonment ranks near the bottom of that list. And surveys have found strong public support for changing how states and the federal government respond to drug crimes.”
“Putting more drug-law violators behind bars for longer periods of time has generated enormous costs for taxpayers, but it has not yielded a convincing public safety return on those investments,” concluded the study. “Instead, more imprisonment for drug offenders has meant limited funds are siphoned away from programs, practices, and policies that have been proved to reduce drug use and crime.”
My opinion? Public safety should be the number one reason we incarcerate. However, penalties should be the most effective, proportional, and cost-efficient sanction to achieve that goal. This would create more uniform sentences and reduce disparities, while preserving judicial discretion when necessary.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face drug charges. If convicted, your loved ones risk facing an unnecessary amount of incarceration. Only a competent and experienced criminal defense attorney can reduce of criminal charges and/or facilitate the implementation of sentencing alternatives which reduce the amount of prison time an offender faces.
Timely article by Diana Hefley of the Everett Herald reports that lawyers for Everett are expected in federal court Monday to defend the merits of a lawsuit filed earlier this year against the makers of the pain medication OxyContin.
According to Hefley’s article, the City of Everett is blaming Purdue for ignoring the diversion of its product, a prescription opioid, to the black market. The lawsuit alleges the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company’s irresponsible business practices helped set in motion what some officials now call an opioid epidemic in Snohomish County, marked by a spike in overdoses, deaths and crime.
The lawsuit claims Purdue knew OxyContin was being funneled to “pill mills” and drug traffickers, including some who set up shop in Everett. Heroin use in Snohomish County and nationwide has skyrocketed in recent years. Addicts often cite prescription painkillers as the source of their introduction to opioids.
Hefly reports that Everett’s lawsuit doesn’t name a dollar amount. Instead, it claims the city has spent and will need to continue to spend significant tax dollars addressing addiction in the community.
Purdue filed a motion to dismiss the case.The company’s lawyers wrote that the city’s allegations are based largely on a false theory that Purdue did nothing to alert law enforcement to the illegal diversion.
Two criminal prosecutions into trafficking rings show that “law enforcement was, at the time, already aware of, and investigating, the criminal conduct of physicians, pharmacies and gang members at issue,” Purdue’s attorney, Thomas Adams, wrote in court papers. Apparently, the city lacks any standing to hold Purdue responsible for Everett’s costs associated with responding to addiction and crime, the defendants argue.
“While we are deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of our medication, this lawsuit paints a completely flawed and inaccurate portrayal of events that led to the crisis in Everett,” the company wrote on its website.
Hefley reports that Purdue was sued a decade ago in Washington. Several states alleged the company had engaged in deceptive marketing practices. Purdue agreed to pay the states $19.5 million as part of a consent judgment. Washington received more than $700,000. As part of the judgment, Purdue agreed to implement diversion detection programs.
However, the City of Everett claims Purdue ignored its obligations. The city pointed to the criminal prosecution of Jevon Lawson, a California transplant and aspiring rap artist, living in Snohomish County, who peddled large amounts of OxyContin. The Daily Herald wrote about Lawson’s indictment in 2011. Everett has defended its lawsuit in a 31-page response.
Its lawyers cited multiple cases — one involving a gun maker and other companies that sell toxic chemicals — to support the contention that Everett has a legal right to hold the manufacturer of a product responsible for harm done to the community.
Everett isn’t the only city taking on the pharmaceutical giant. Last week, the City of Tacoma filed a federal lawsuit against Purdue, along with co-defendant pharmaceutical companies Endo and Janssen. The lawsuit claims the opioid manufacturers made misleading statements about the risks of their products to doctors and patients for the past 20 years.
My opinion? A large amount of my clients charged with DUI, drug crimes, assaults, property crimes and identity theft are, in fact, suffering from drug addictions to opiods. Recent reports and crime data also reflects an uptick in opiod-related crimes. Although we must take accountability for our actions, it violates justice to assume that drug addicts are totally responsible for their actions when prescription “medicine” drives them to abuse drugs and exhibit criminal behavior. Good luck to the City of Everett. And excellent reporting from reporter Diana Hefley, by the way.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal allegations that you allegedly committed while under the influence of prescribed opioids. the defense of Diminished Capacity may apply. Under this defense, diminished capacity means that although the accused was not insane, due to emotional distress, physical condition, drug addiction or other factors he/she could not fully comprehend the nature of the criminal act he/she is accused of committing.
Excellent, informative article by Michael Shaw of in the Columbia Journalism Review discusses the clear double standard in the visual framing of the opioid crisis in comparison to the crack cocaine crisis of the 1980’s.
Shaw claims that media coverage of the opioid epidemic—which largely affects suburban and rural whites—portrays it as an outside threat and focuses on treatment and recovery, while stories of heroin in the 1970s, crack-cocaine in the 1980s, and other drug problems that impact urban people of color today have focused on the drug user’s morality.
Photos of the opioid crisis depict well-lit spaces, stress domesticity, and emphasize close-knit communities. In contrast, pictures of urban drug problems have depicted nighttime scenes on seedy streets or portrayed individuals interacting with the police, courts, or jails—often using starker black and white photography. In sum, Shaw argues, “Elected officials, the criminal justice system, and the American media have adopted a ‘kinder and gentler’ tone around the opioid crisis.”
“A sub-theme of opioid crisis coverage: Many stories showcase children who have been saved by loving grandparents.” Photo from The New York Times, 2016.
Drug stories about black families in cities present a “narrative of broken homes, addicted babies, mothers depicted as unfit, the engagement of state agencies, and children routinely placed into foster care.” Photo from The Washington Post, 1989.
The racial bias is inescapable. A drug crisis that is largely affecting suburban and rural whites is being treated with a drastically different attitude and approach in words and imagery than those used to characterize heroin use in the 1970s, crack cocaine in the late 1980s, and the drug problem plaguing America’s people of color and urban poor today.
Shaw claims that elected officials, the criminal justice system, and the American media have adopted a “kinder and gentler” tone around the opioid crisis. The attitude and phrasing of a recent New York Times article—titled: “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs”—is both an example and an illustration. As is Time’s just-published photo story “A caring lens on the opioid crisis.” The visual language is just as illuminating. The opioid crisis has been framed as a threat from outside, with drug users facing an “illness or a “disease” rather than a personal moral shortcoming.
“You can see in this photo how demonstrators cast addicts who have died from drugs as victims, and in the inset photo, literally as an angel,” says Shaw. “In another photograph, you can see how the same group, FedUp!, has co-opted the quilt as a protest symbol reminiscent of the AIDS crisis.”
Shaw also argues that the largely white drug “epidemic” we’re facing now bears little resemblance to the scenes of squalor, sociopathy, and criminality depicted in this 33-photo Getty package shot in the Bronx and published in June. And photos from the urban “war on drugs” don’t look much different today than they did 30 years ago.
The photo above by Scott Applewhite, also shot in the Bronx, appeared in 1989. It was published to illustrate an eight-week federal anti-drug initiative characterized by armed police raids on inner city crack houses. Suffice it to say police in general have taken a different approach to white opioid drug users (more on that later).
Over the years, photographers have produced many landmark photo stories and bodies of work about drug addiction. The subjects and the settings have been uniformly harsh, the subjects primarily indigent and wayward, and the environs largely decrepit. Those stories include Larry Clark’s “Tulsa,” shot in the mid-1960s and published in 1971; Jessica Dimmock’s “The Ninth Floor,” shot in the Flatiron District of Manhattan and published in 2007; Michel Du Cille’s Pulitzer Prize winning work in 1988 documenting crack addiction in Miami.
Another important photo story in the canon of addiction is Eugene Richards’s “Cocaine True Cocaine Blue.” The project was shot primarily in New York and Philadelphia from 1988 to 1992 and published in 1994. The Instagram post above captures the visual tone and sensibility of that historical investigation. Notice the difference in tone between the historical work and a opioid story in June in The New Yorker shot by Richards in one West Virginia county.
This tweet depicts four of six Richards images that illustrated the story. In the top left photo, the girl playing in the yard lives with her grandmother. She lost her father to a heroin overdose. The top right photo shows people running a project that helps place addicts in rehab. The middle photo shows a mother, a recovering addict, showing off her newborn. And the last photo is a doctor who offers free public classes in the use of Narcan, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses.
“What are the larger themes of photo coverage of the opioid crisis, centered on rural and suburban white America, and where do they contrast with coverage of drugs in cities?” asks Shaw. “Photos are almost always shot in color rather than the starker black and white. We typically see daytime or well-lit indoor photos, as opposed to night action on seedy streets or dark alleys.” Shaw further emphasizes that there is minimal engagement with courts, jail, or the police. And there is a stress on domesticity. The photos often are shot at a home, the spaces mostly tidy or pulled together. Bedroom portraits are common.
Opioid stories typically discuss family, extended family, and community.
This image in the tweet above appeared in The New York Times “gentler drug war” story mentioned above. It’s a photo of Courtney Griffin, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014. The picture in the center show Courtney closely flanked by her sister and her mother. Emphasizing love and closeness, as well as nostalgia and irony, the photo exemplifies how the opioid imagery stays away from pain, despair, isolation, and, of course, relationship problems.
Victims are often depicted in a sympathetic light, with an emphasis on family bonds and survivor grief. A sub-theme of opioid crisis coverage: Many stories showcase children who have been saved by loving grandparents.
In the photo accompanying a Times story, notice the child safe in her bedroom, the letters on the wall spelling out her name, reinforcing identity and continuity. This pattern is a dramatic contrast to the narrative of broken homes, addicted babies, mothers depicted as unfit, the engagement of state agencies, and children routinely placed into foster care that is so characteristic of drug stories focused on black families in cities.
Consider this AP photo of a young man showing a picture of himself after a near-fatal overdose in 2015. It’s like it can’t be the same person, the Nike “Just Do It” accentuating a sense of agency over addiction.
This photo was featured in a major article on the opioid crisis published this month by The New York Times Magazine. Faith, love, and patriotism are themes that often lace photos of the opioid crisis.
In this photo, we see a look of conviction on the man’s face and an American flag in the background. This formerly homeless man started a wildly popular Facebook group after his friend died of heroin and is now a sought after drug counselor. What’s more American than bringing nationalism, patriotism, and a sense of can-do to a problem otherwise riddled with shame?
When you do see photos of actual drug use, the images are typically clinical and objective, as opposed to desperate and dingy. After all the crafted photojournalism like the images you see above, it’s jarring to see these user pictures more in the style of stock photography.
This photo by John Moore is part of a story about New London, Connecticut, which is suffering an unprecedented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. You’ll notice that the user wears a crucifix, a symbol of faith and a visual buffer with the drug use. Unlike other drug scourges, where photos of users using were common and showed faces, many opioid portraits hide the users’ faces. We hardly ever see anguish, craving, or the high, the rush, or the stupor. The subjects look as if they are doing a routine task, like brushing their teeth.
The above photo by Spencer Platt shows a black male drug user unceremoniously splayed out on an East Harlem sidewalk.
“Of course, there are exceptions,” says Shaw.
In light of campaign politics and now the debate over healthcare, geography has been almost as prominent a theme in the opioid crisis as demographics. A great deal of the towns are down-and-out, suffering from poverty and a loss of industry. In many cases, however, the photography softens the blow.
“The visual narrative around the opioid crisis has largely sidestepped criminality,” says Shaw. In fact, many opioid stories depict police as social advocates fighting for the community, as exemplified by the July New York Times Magazine cover story. In some cases, they are even a lifeline for users thanks to first responders who carry the drug Naloxone for reversing an overdose.
Contrast this August 2015 arrest photo from East Harlem, the charges unspecified, (shot in this case by Spencer Platt for Getty Images), with the NYPD Instagram post below, from May.
As a form of public service announcement, the two officers promote their use of Naloxone spray accompanied by an account of how they “saved a man from a potentially fatal overdose” just the week before. In fact, the visual stories hardly address the dealers and distributors of opioids at all.
“I’m not sure what the race or ethnicity was of the person the NYPD rescued, but a thorough news image search reveals that most articles about Narcan or Naloxone either feature white drugs users or addicts, photos of white people who are being resuscitated (such as in this slideshow), or else they feature trainings or simulations with white volunteers and, almost exclusively, white mannequins,” says Shaw. “There is a clear double standard in the visual framing of the opioid crisis.
Shaw points out that the gentler tone presents a marked departure from historical drug coverage, and the bias in the depiction of the problem as it plagues urban people of color feels “baked in.” Shaw further states that what is even more concerning is the prospect for closing this perceptual gap. Besides racial disparity in journalism, the dog-whistle politics of President Trump is encouraging divisiveness and driving a deeper wedge. Still worse, the GOP leadership is patronizing addicts and states with proportionally larger populations of afflicted rural white populations with the promise of increased prevention and treatment funding as part of its argument for repealing Obamacare.
My opinion? Excellent way to bring truth to the surface. Thank you, Mr. Shaw, for shining light in the darkness.