Re­view: Heroin crime im­mu­nity yields mixed re­sults

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Ann San­ner and Philip Marcelo

Reel­ing from a surge in heroin over­doses, au­thor­i­ties in the Cincin­nati area made an of­fer: Hand in po­ten­tially deadly drugs and you won’t be charged. But the blan­ket im­mu­nity granted by a judge there over a month ago hasn’t brought in any heroin so far.

Re­sults from sim­i­lar ef­forts else­where have also yielded few drugs, ac­cord­ing to a re­view by The Associated Press. Still, that hasn’t dis­suaded sup­port­ers who, along with of­fi­cials na­tion­wide, feel like their backs are against the wall as they try to fight the opi­ate cri­sis.

“Turn it in, get it off the streets; get it out of your homes, out of your fam­i­lies,” Dr. Lak­shmi Sam­marco, the Hamil­ton County coro­ner, pleaded last month.

She and other county lead­ers had hoped peo­ple would will­ingly come for­ward with deadly drugs when a judge granted their re­quest for blan­ket im­mu­nity on Sept. 7. But as of Tues­day, the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice had yet to hear about any drugs be­ing turned in to any lo­cal law en­force­ment agency in the county.

“We weren’t ex­pect­ing a lot of drugs,” said Julie Wil­son, a spokes­woman. “It was some­thing out of the box to try what­ever we can to deal with this prob­lem.”

Ad­dicts who have gone through sim­i­lar ef­forts in other parts of the coun­try say they aren’t sur­prised Cincin­nati’s ef­fort hasn’t borne fruit.

“The tan­gi­ble drug is just the sur­face, and with no avail­able ac­cess to treat­ment you’re es­sen­tially yelling to a drown­ing per­son ‘Just keep swim­ming!’ with­out ac­tu­ally throw­ing a life pre­server,” said Steve Les­nikoski, 31, the first to go through a pi­o­neer­ing heroin treat­ment pro­gram in Glouces­ter, Mas­sachusetts.

Launched in June 2015, the AN­GEL pro­gram lets ad­dicts turn in their heroin to po­lice with­out fear of ar­rest. But of­fi­cials say fewer than 20 per­cent of the over 500 ad­dicts placed into treat­ment have taken them up on that of­fer.

Two com­mu­ni­ties that were among the ear­li­est to adopt Glouces­ter’s ap­proach have seen sim­i­larly low num­bers of drug drop-offs.

In Scar­bor­ough, Maine, roughly a dozen of the over 200 ad­dicts placed into treat­ment have turned in small quan­ti­ties of drugs and para­pher­na­lia. In Dixon, Illi­nois, two of the more than 100 ad­dicts so far placed into treat­ment have will­ingly handed over drugs.

The ef­forts are more fo­cused on get­ting peo­ple into treat­ment than round­ing up drugs, said John Rosen­thal, di­rec­tor of a Mas­sachusetts or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­port­ing Glouces­ter’s and some 160 sim­i­lar ef­forts na­tion­wide.

“Just to be 100 per­cent clear, we don’t view our pro­grams as of­fer­ing ‘im­mu­nity’ for peo­ple in pos­ses­sion of il­le­gal drugs,” he said. “We are of­fer­ing ac­cess to treat­ment with­out ar­rest, shame or judg­ment, and if par­tic­i­pants hap­pen to bring in drugs, po­lice will gladly re­ceive and de­stroy them.”

Dixon Po­lice Chief Dan Lan­gloss agreed: “It’s an im­por­tant part of the pro­gram, but it’s not the fo­cus. It sends a mes­sage to peo­ple strug­gling that we’re not here to ar­rest you. We’re here to help you.”

Sim­ply of­fer­ing im­mu­nity for turn­ing in drugs isn’t enough; pro­grams need to of­fer ways of end­ing the cy­cle of drug abuse, ar­rest and in­car­cer­a­tion, ad­dic­tion ex­perts say.

But the ul­ti­mate im­pact of pro­grams like Glouces­ter’s re­mains to be seen.

Ad­vo­cates cite lower rates of drug-re­lated crimes like shoplift­ing and bur­glary and fewer fa­tal over­doses, but in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts cau­tion there are likely other fac­tors con­tribut­ing to those de­clines. And no pub­lished data yet show how ad­dicts fare after treat­ment.

Of­fi­cials in Glouces­ter, Scar­bor­ough and Dixon say in­for­mal sur­veys sug­gest 10 to 35 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants have re­lapsed at least once.

Seat­tle’s 5-year-old LEAD pro­gram — which con­nects low-level drug of­fend­ers and pros­ti­tutes with sup­port in­clud­ing hous­ing and men­tal health coun­sel­ing in­stead of jail — hasn’t been com­pil­ing drug use sta­tis­tics but will go­ing for­ward, said Lisa Dau­gaard, who helps man­age the pro­gram. It is be­ing repli­cated in Santa Fe, New Mex­ico; Al­bany, New York; Bal­ti­more; Port­land, Ore­gon, and other cities.

Au­thor­i­ties around Ohio, mean­while, are watch­ing Cincin­nati’s im­mu­nity ap­proach with hope and skep­ti­cism.

“You’re ask­ing the ad­dicts and the sell­ers to give up their drugs. And that’s tough,” said Cmdr. John Burke, who leads a drug task force in nearby Brown County. “They get it and they shoot it up. That’s what it’s all about.”

Sher­iff Richard Jones, from neigh­bor­ing But­ler County, ques­tioned whether deal­ers caught with drugs dur­ing a traf­fic stop could claim they were on their way to turn it in.

The Hamil­ton County pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice re­sponded that peo­ple would have to walk into the sta­tion to be granted im­mu­nity; lead­ers have said a rel­a­tive would likely be the one to turn in drugs.

Jones re­mains un­con­vinced.

“This will be chal­lenged in court, be­lieve me. And it will be some­thing else we have to fight,” he said. “It’s not the an­swer.”

Michael Hais­lop, 27, who went through Scar­bor­ough’s ad­dic­tion pro­gram in De­cem­ber, coun­tered that do­ing noth­ing isn’t an op­tion.

Hais­lop quickly fell back into old drug habits after be­ing re­leased from prison this year; then he learned about the com­mu­nity’s treat­ment of­fer. He has been clean ever since, he said, work­ing and at­tend­ing com­mu­nity col­lege in Port­land.

“Who knows what would have hap­pened if I hadn’t found them?” he said. “But I do know the pro­gram was a driv­ing force to get­ting me to where I am now.”

“You’re ask­ing the ad­dicts and the sell­ers to give up their drugs. And that’s tough. They get it and they shoot it up. That’s what it’s all about.” — Cmdr. John Burke, who leads a drug task force in Brown County, Ohio, out­side of Cincin­nati

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.