Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Some never make it

Special to The Daily Astorian
Published on February 21, 2017 12:01AM

We have been too eager to declare victory in a war on drugs that never really started.

A recent editorial in The Daily Astorian correctly pointed to the dismal state of Oregon’s response to deaths directly caused by illegal drugs.

Another article chronicled the sad journey of Dave and Kerry Strickland, who lost their son, Jordan, to heroin and have had the courage to speak about a battle that touches so many families.

Not coincidentally, another article documented the rigors of getting a new police officer on the road at the Astoria Police Department.

While there has been some progress, together the three articles outline the imperative need for local governments to even more effectively and aggressively address drug abuse and illegal drugs.

Over-prescription of some drugs has been dramatically reduced. Pseudoephedrine was a common off-the-shelf cold medicine that was also crucial to the manufacture of methamphetamine — perhaps the worst of all the drugs. Its catastrophic health consequences include near-immediate addiction and psychotic behavior. Meth cooks bought larges batches of the drug from local stores, until Oregon passed legislation making a doctor’s prescription necessary for purchase. The “Beavis and Butthead labs,” as law enforcement called them, declined to almost zero.

We assumed that meant meth was gone. But that wasn’t so. Meth now comes into the United States in 55-gallon drums from international cartels.

The opiate that is killing people now is heroin. Heroin used to cost about $20 a dose and was far less potent. Today it is sometimes laced with illegally-imported quantities of the super-potent fentanyl, another opiate which has, when medically administered, brought tremendous relief to many (including my own mother) who suffer from severe chronic pain. “Recreational use” is the most ironic of terms for fentanyl-laced heroin, which now sells from $3 to $5 a dose and could be potent enough to kill the first time.

And so, another geopolitical aspect to our drug problems.

Many people addicted to drugs don’t end up in the court system. Some people never make it past the emergency room. Clatsop County is exceedingly fortunate to have Dr. Joann Giuliani to serve as our county’s medical examiner, not only being on call literally 24/7, but also working with police and the community when tragedies like opiate overdoses take someone’s life. Often, she answers the difficult questions families often have about how their child died.

A solid drug policy would address and provide: low-cost and long-term mental health and drug treatment; a law enforcement team dedicated to drug enforcement; and a practical, viable drug court backed up by the potential of real sanctions and real rewards. All three elements need reinforcement.
Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare has made real progress. Still, mental health treatment is scarce, and Clatsop County has no detox or secure mental health beds. In-patient drug treatment is operated entirely by private providers and remains out of reach for most without better-than-average insurance.

The path to sobriety is not easy, which is why we do not seek revocation of the second chances we extend on most drug possession cases the first few times they admit relapsing. But the threat of even a few days in jail may prompt someone to stay sober, to attend treatment, and to make it to the next stage in recovery. The people who complete drug court graduate with their case entirely dismissed.

After having founded Clatsop County’s Drug Court, Judge Philip Nelson has retired, turning drug court over to our newest judge, Dawn McIntosh. Because of sentencing guidelines, which judges are required to follow, it is literally impossible for someone to face prison for drug possession, no matter how bad their record or how many prior similar convictions they have racked up.

Not that most drug addicts belong in prison. Oregon has one of the lowest rates of imprisoning drug felons, at less than 10% of the state prison population. There is even a badly-conceived effort in this legislative session to reduce all possession cases from felonies to misdemeanors, further minimizing the actual harm done to users, their family, and the community. If the possibility of “earning away” a possible felony conviction, even without the threat of prison, is further eroded, then we can expect drug court applicants to dry to next to zero, as they have in California and other states that took this ill-advised step.

With heroin and meth being bigger business than ever, there is no reason, and no sense, in not addressing both the supply and demand sides of the drug problem.

The Clatsop County Drug Team allows police to focus on higher-level dealers, cutting off the supply much more effectively. It would have vanished long ago but for the determination of Sheriff Tom Bergin, who once ran the team as a detective. In its best years there were detectives from Astoria, Seaside, the Sheriff’s Office, and even the Oregon State Police. Draconian budget cuts have worn down the State Police for years and took away OSP’s detective. The years that Astoria Police participated were among the most productive. The City of Astoria should dedicate an officer to the drug team, in addition to its current needs.

We owe it to Dave, Kerry and Jordan Strickland, and the many others who have suffered under what The Daily Astorian called “this blight,” to do these basic steps to make Clatsop County a better place.

Here is the OpEd on the Daily Astorian's website.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dave Miller, host of OPB's "Think Out Loud," did one of the best interviews on the difficult topic of the death penalty that I've participated in over 20 years of national discussion. The 21 minutes flew by in a high-level exchange of information and perspective. Here's the SoundCloud audio:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hardy Myers

Hardy was a man of remarkable compassion, who took on tremendous leadership in the realm of victims' rights. Hardy's commitment to victims rights continued after he left office and his was an important voice for people too long ignored by the legal system. He was a real class act and will be terribly missed. Here is the Oregonian's story about his life and death::::::

Former Attorney General Hardy Myers dies at age 77
By Samantha Matsumoto
November 30, 2016 at 8:45 AM, updated December 01, 2016 at 9:37 AM

Former Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, who worked in state politics for more than three decades, died Tuesday night, his son said. He was 77.

Myers died from complications with pneumonia, his son Chris Myers said. He had also had been sick with lung cancer for the past two years, Chris Myers said. He left behind three sons, 10 grandchildren and his wife of 54 years, Mary Ann Myers.

Myers had a long and accomplished career in state politics. He served in the Oregon House of Representatives for five terms, holding the reins as speaker from 1979 to 1982. The Democrat was later elected attorney general in 1996.

Gov. Kate Brown lauded Myers' work to improve domestic and sexual violence laws and school safety policies after the Thurston High School shooting in 1998.

"Oregon lost a true statesman today. Hardy Myers dedicated most of his adult life to serving the people of Oregon as a legislator and Attorney General," Brown said in a statement. "His legal acumen was greatly respected by lawmakers, and he was beloved by many who worked for him."

During his career, Myers worked to improve consumer laws, including multistate settlements with drug companies. He bolstered services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. He helped negotiate a settlement between states and the tobacco industry in 1998. He also successfully defended the state's assisted suicide law, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2006.

Born Oct. 25, 1939, Myers was raised in central Oregon. He attended Crook County High School in Prineville before attending the University of Mississippi for his undergraduate degree. He graduated from the University of Oregon's law school in 1964.

Myers began his career in state politics in 1974 when he won a seat in the Oregon House from Portland. He served two of his five legislative terms as House speaker. After the House, he worked as a lawyer for the Stoel Rives law firm in Portland.

Myers ran for attorney general in 1996 after Ted Kulongoski announced he would not run for a second term as attorney general. Myers beat out then-Democrat Kevin Mannix and Victor Hoffer for the job.

Myers served 12 years as attorney general before he retired in 2009 at age 69. He is tied for Oregon's third-longest serving attorney general with Andrew Crawford.

Senate President Peter Courtney called Myers' death a giant loss. Myers was the first House speaker Courtney worked with, he said.

"He taught me everything," Courtney said in a statement. "He taught me to respect the institution. He taught me to respect the process. He taught me to respect other people and other viewpoints. He was a wonderful gentleman."

Chris Myers said he will remember family cross county road trips with his father, with many stops at historical sites.

His father was devoted to both his family and his career as a public servant, Chris Myers said.
"I think people really respected his integrity and fairness," Chris Myers said. "Those were the hallmarks of his career."

Myers' funeral will be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at the All Saints Catholic Church at 3847 NE Glisan St.
-- Samantha Matsumoto