09/29/13 Elizabeth Patty Lugo

Elizabeth Patty Lugo looks back 5 years since law enforcement sent Rachael Hoffman to inform for them and got her killed, Michael Douglas speaks to the drug war, CBS report on chronic pain, NY Times: Dr. Carl Hart, Doug McVay re Canada leading the way re heroin treatment

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Guest: 
Elizabeth Patty Lugo
Organization: 
Rachael Hoffman
Download: Audio icon COL092913.mp3
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Transcript

Century of Lies September 29, 2013

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DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

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DEAN BECKER: As always we got a jam packed show for you. Let’s get started.

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ELIZABETH PATTY LUGO: My name is Elizabeth Patty Lugo. I’m one of Rachael Hoffman’s best friends. I met Rachael through my husband. They lived in the same apartment complex. Rachael was murdered 5 years ago. I was less than a mile away from her and about 5 minutes away on the highway to see her when she was shot 5 times point blank with a gun she was ordered by police to buy.

Ever since that day I would definitely say my life has been completely affected by that. Every day has been different since then. I always tell people that that was the day that I lost all my innocence and my naivete. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.

She’s influenced most of my life to the better. I live life to the fullest because every day could be your last. It’s been really hard without her around. It’s been especially hard for her family.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s talk about the situation. Rachael dabbled a little bit with drugs. She got caught up for those small amounts. She was given a penalty more severe than prison by becoming an informant, correct?

ELIZABETH PATTY LUGO: It’s not unusual for people to become informants regardless of the amount of drugs they have or whatever police activity is involved. People become informants for a number of reasons.

Informants are a fairly important aspect of police work. A lot of crimes do get solved using confidential informants. Rachael was selling marijuana out of her apartment in Tallahassee. I always tell people I will never dispute that what she was doing was illegal. She should not have been selling marijuana because she was breaking the law.

After she was caught by police selling marijuana instead of getting a court sentence that a lot of us are used to she was offered a deal by police to become a confidential informant and then she wouldn’t be charged with the marijuana that they found in her apartment.

That’s kind of how all that happened. She was selling small amounts. There’s no disputing that that was illegal but the police had her purchase - after they caught her – 2 to 3 ounces of cocaine, 1,500 Ecstasy/MDMA pills and a handgun.

Rachael was caught with a little under 1/4 pound of marijuana which may sound like a lot to some people. It’s about a gallon zip lock baggy full of marijuana. I read about a bust a few days ago that was 500 pounds so at this point we’re quibbling sizes and one-quarter pound is as punishable as 500 pounds.

I just don’t think that her punishment fit the crime. If she had been caught with a small amount of marijuana why wouldn’t she have to get a small amount of marijuana? She’d never been charged or accused of having cocaine. She’d been caught with 2 Ecstasy pills and they asked her to get 1,500. She had never once in her life fired a handgun. I don’t even think she’d been around them. Whenever the conversation of firearms was brought up in her house she was very much against firearms. She was very much into gun regulation.

For her to be asked to the things that she was asked to get based off of what she was caught with – it’s just asinine. It doesn’t make any sense.

DEAN BECKER: The day she was murdered I hear there were a dozen cop cars that were supposed to be backing her up, a helicopter was involved and, yet, somehow they lost track of her. Tell us how that unfolded.

ELIZABETH PATTY LUGO: The day of Rachael’s operation she went to the Tallahassee police department in the late afternoon. She was wired by a member of the police force who was not cleared with wiring and how their audio-visual technologies worked for tracking informants. She was wired improperly to begin with.

She was given 13,000 dollars in marked bills to go meet with two men whom she had never had any previous contact. She’d never purchased any amount of drugs from them before. She had said hello to them once because she was introduced to them by a friend.

The police had her meet these two targets with $13,000 in her purse by herself with the faulty wires. That day there were 19 law enforcement officials involved in her operation including one DEA plane which was to be flying overhead to track Rachael.

The area where Rachael’s buy/bust operation was supposed to go down is a heavily wooded area of Tallahassee. Tallahassee has a lot of Spanish Moss, big oak trees – there’s a lot of canopy. Tallahassee is kind of famous for it.

The DEA plane was basically useless because they couldn’t see through all the heavy tree cover. When Rachael went up to this park which was about 20 minutes northwest of Tallahassee which she wasn’t familiar with.

The wire that she’d been wired with failed and police could not hear her through the wire which is what they were expecting to do. Even if they had been able to hear her through the wire one of the lieutenants at the Tallahassee police department who was tasked with monitoring her wire testified that she was distracted during the hours of Rachael’s operation and was not full monitoring Rachael’s wire.

It was a moot point since her wire failed anyway but even if the wire hadn’t failed she still wasn’t listened to.

Rachael was told that she was going to have line-of-sight on her at all times by a number of law enforcement officials. There were 19 involved that day. They had assured her time and time again that she would be watched at all times. If anything would go wrong they would be right there.

They told her the worst thing that could possibly happen is that they would have to fake arrest her as well just to make it look like she wasn’t in on the operation and then they would drive her home. In her mind that was the worst that she thought could happen.

She gets up to the area of northwest Tallahassee where the buy/bust operation is taking place and police lose sight of her. In the Grand Jury report and a lot of the legal documents it’s not really clear why they lost her. Rachael went to turn into one park where the buy was supposed to happen and she missed that turn and continued on but for some reason law enforcement officials did not monitor her after she missed that turn.

She had missed one turn previously and was alerted immediately that she had made a wrong turn but then she missed another turn and for some reason police were not able to track her after that. This area of Tallahassee is sketchy for cell phone reception so she didn’t have a lot of reception. They were unable to get her on the phone. Somehow all of the 19 law enforcement officials that day lost visual sight of her. They had no audio sight of her.

Rachael went to meet the 2 targets by herself at the end of this secluded area where police lost her. Granted the buy/bust operation was supposed to happen in a park where there were tennis players, there were families of all ages. It’s kind of a very “Leave it to Beaver” kind of park. It’s very family-orientated.

I’m surprised that they set up a buy/bust operation in that park. To begin with an ABC correspondent (I can’t remember his name right now) said that the park would have been fine if it was just a drug deal but the fact that there was a weapon involved was a very poor choice made by TPD.

The location of the buy/bust operation had been changed no less than 5 times and each time the location had been changed by the target which is a violation of Tallahassee police department protocol – something that the Grand Jury noticed several times in their panel report.

The targets changed the location 5 times. That didn’t strike Rachael as odd that the targets had changed the location four previous times and each time the Tallahassee police department agreed to the new location.

She went to meet the two targets. She thought that police had line-of-sight on her at all times. She thought that police could hear her because of her audio equipment in her purse and the wire on her person.

The Grand Jury report noted that Rachael Hoffman had no way of knowing that the audio equipment had failed. She had no way of knowing that the law enforcement officials who were tasked to monitor her had lost sight of her. The Grand Jury report says, and I quote, “Rachael Hoffman cried out loud for help as she was shot and killed and nobody was there to hear her.”

DEAN BECKER: Sadly that’s all too common. Her’s is the most notorious of them all but this story plays out across America on too regular of a basis. Your closing thoughts?

ELIZABETH PATTY LUGO: I don’t know if you read the article but there was a wonderful article in the New Yorker by a woman named Sarah Stillman. The title of the article is “The Throw Aways.”

It’s one of my favorite pieces that someone did about Rachael. It’s a beautiful piece. It’s a very gifted writer. It profiles not just Rachael’s story but the stories of other people across the country who are coerced every day into becoming a confidential informant.

I always say that I feel like Rachael was emotionally blackmailed in this situation because she was given the options of either go to prison for 4 years - Rachael was 23-years-old at the time – or she could become a confidential informant to work off her charges.

Given those two choices I guess you could say she chose to be an informant but what type of choice is that for a 23-year-old to make. She was specifically told by the Tallahassee police department not to tell her attorney that she had been arrested and she was being used as an informant.

Rachael’s rights were violated because she was never officially arrested on these charges. She was never read her Miranda rights. Rachael was basically just a pawn who had no rights and was being used.

In the piece in the New Yorker profiled people who experienced that every single day. Some people say that the reason that Rachael’s story got so much attention is because she was an upper-middle class, white college graduate. That might be true.

When we think of confidential informants maybe we think more of minorities or we think of hardened criminals who are flipping on the person that they trafficked heroin for or something like that but Rachael’s story hits home for a lot of people because it could be anybody in this situation.

Sadly minorities are used as informants way more often than non-minorities. It can happen to anyone. It just needs to get the story out there. You can say no. If you have been arrested for a crime the first thing you need to do is contact an attorney. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can work off your charges.

The only people that can lessen your charges in a court of law are a prosecutor or a judge. The police cannot promise you a reduced sentence.

The reason I speak out about Rachael’s story is because you have the right to say no. Your life is at stake her and that’s why I always talk about her. Everybody could be in this position. I’ve done some things in my youth. I could have very easily have been her.

The person down the street that you know could have been her or it could have been your daughter or your son or your best friend. It happens more often than we think.

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DEAN BECKER: This is last week’s Emmy Award winner Michael Douglas.

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MICHAEL DOUGLAS: My son, Cameron, is in federal prison. He’s been, unfortunately, a drug addict for most of his life. He was arrested for dealing drugs. He’s a non-violent offense but, unfortunately, in prison it’s as easy to get drugs or easier than it is on the street.

He’s had a couple little slips and part of that makes him get punished. He has spent almost 2 years in solitary confinement and part of his punishment is I am not allowed, his family is not allowed to see him for 2 years.

It’s been just about a year now and obviously we’re working hard now in trying to see him and, more importantly, there seems to be now a revival of a new look at our drug laws particularly pertaining to non-violent drug criminals that will give us a little more leeway I hope.

I think a lot of people are being punished unfairly. We’re more of a target. An interesting statistic that when you go back to this is the United States represents 5% of the world’s population. We have 25% of the world’s prisoners.

We have over 500,000 people in jail for non-violent drug offences - some of them for very, very long periods of time. I think we just generally have found that this is not the way that is working and hopefully we’re going to see a revival.

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REPORTER: 5 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan left 35-year-old Army Specialist, Scott McDonald, with chronic back pain. His wife, Heather, says that over the course of a year VA doctors in Columbus, Ohio prescribed him 8 pain and psychiatric medications.

HEATHER McDONALD: It just got out of control. They just started pill after pill, prescription after prescription.

REPORTER: He would go for follow-up visits?

HEATHER McDONALD: Yes, and he would come home with brand new medications, higher milligrams.

REPORTER: Then a VA doctor added a ninth pill – a narcotic called Percocet. Later that evening Heather came home from work and found Scott disorientated on the couch.

HEATHER McDONALD: I asked him, “Have you accidentally taken too many pills?”

He was like, “No, no – I took what they told me to take.”

I propped a pillow under his head and that’s how I found him the next morning.

REPORTER: He wasn’t breathing?

HEATHER McDONALD: No.

REPORTER: The Coroner ruled McDonald’s death accidental. He had been “over medicated and died from the combined effects of 5 of his medications.”

PHYLLIS HOLLENBECK: There’s an overuse of narcotics. It’s the first reflex for pain.

REPORTER: Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, currently a physician with the Jackson, Mississippi VA raised her concerns with the federal government about the VA’s practices for prescribing narcotics.

PHYLLIS HOLLENBECK: The people in charge said we want you to sign off on narcotic prescriptions on patients you don’t see. I was absolutely stunned and I knew immediately that it was illegal. It works on the surface. It keeps the veterans happy. They don’t complain. They’re not coming in as often if they have their pain medicine.

The people in charge don’t care if it’s done right.

REPORTER: We obtained VA data through a records request which showed the number of prescriptions written by VA doctors and nurse practitioners during the past 11 years. The number of patients treated by the VA is up 29% but narcotics prescriptions are up 259%.

A dozen VA physicians who have worked at 15 VA medical centers told us they felt pressured by administrators to prescribe narcotics and that patients are not being properly monitored.

DOCTOR: I have seen people that have not had an exam of that body part that they are complaining of pain in for two years. It’s easier to write a prescription for a narcotic and just move along and get to the next patient.

REPORTER: This doctor who presently treats pain patients at the VA asked not to be identified.

DOCTOR: We’re letting people come in and prescribing massive doses of narcotics and they also are on drugs for mental health problems.

REPORTER: If you’re giving those kinds of quantities of pills I assume that requires a rather close eye being kept on the patient.

DOCTOR: You would think so but it isn’t the case.

REPORTER: We gathered data from 5 of the states with the most veterans. We found veterans are dying of accidental narcotic overdoses at a 33% higher rate than non-veterans.

Doctor Robert Kerns who is the Director of Pain Management for the VA nationwide...

ROBERT KERNS: We’re faced in this country with an important health crisis that we’re talking about today related to prescription drug abuse but we have a similar crisis related to chronic pain and the way that it is managed in this country.

REPORTER: Kern says the VA is taken action to ensure that both patients and providers are aware of the risks and benefits of narcotics.

ROBERT KERNS: Providers are trained to have a thoughtful discussion with their patient to share concerns about the limited potential benefit of these medications but also these risks that we’re talking about today.

REPORTER: Heather McDonald says she plans to sue the VA.

HEATHER McDONALD: He never should have been taking that many pills but he trusted his doctors. My husband served honorably with pride and dignity not to come home and die on the couch.

ANCHOR: Now, Jim, the VA declined to talk with you about the McDonald case or any of the specifics in your story but what else did the VA have to say in its own defense?

REPORTER: Well, Doctor Robert Kerns, the Director of Pain Management for the VA who we just heard from, had a couple points he wanted to make.

The first is that while narcotics, opioids like Percocet, are not the last resort they are not the first line of treatment option either and that, secondly, if you look at the statistics the number of veterans with chronic pain being treated with opioid therapy is relatively small.

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DEAN BECKER: The following segment courtesy of the New York Times.

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REPORTER: Doctor Carl Hart, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, has seen the effects of illegal drugs from two sides - as a scientist and as a youngster growing up in poverty in Florida.

Now he’s written a book called “High Price” that our columnist John Tearny calls a fascinating combination of memoir and social science.

Carl Hart joins us now. Doctor Hart, welcome.

CARL HART: Thank you for having me.

REPORTER: So, your subtitle is “A neuroscientist’s journey of self-discovery that challenges everything you know about drugs in society.”

You pack a lot in there. Tell us about this self-discovery.

CARL HART: I guess I was thinking about how I came from my journey in Miami to becoming the first African-American tenured professor at Columbia. Along the way I thought that I was going to solve the problem of drug addiction but it turns out that drug addiction wasn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem, I found out, was actually drug policy. That was one of those discoveries that I’ve made along the way.

REPORTER: Talk about your early research with animals. What were you trying to find out?

CARL HART: When I was an undergraduate student one of the things that we all were told and we saw the data is that laboratory animals when you give them an opportunity to self-administer a drug like cocaine, methamphetamine and those types of drugs they will kill themselves. They will self-administer the drugs until they kill themselves under the right conditions. Those conditions are such that there is nothing else in the cage with the animal besides the drug.

However, when you look more closely, if you allow the animal to have some alternative options – a sexually receptive mate, sweet treats, a running wheel, - alternatives you can disrupt the cocaine self-administration. It turns out we did studies with crack-cocaine smokers, methamphetamine users under similar sort of conditions where we provided alternatives. Alternatives being monetary reinforcers or merchandise vouchers for goods like electronics and so forth.

When you provide these alternatives what you see is people who smoke crack-cocaine 5,6, 7 times a week don’t smoke the drug anymore. They would prefer the alternative option if the options are attractive - $5, $20 can disrupt this sort of cocaine taking behavior.

REPORTER: Talk about how you did these experiments. You would actually bring crack and methamphetamine users into your lab, pay them a stipend and then what would you ask them to do?

CARL HART: First we had to pass all the ethical requirements. These people have to have a demonstrated history of using these drugs. We also have to make sure they are not seeking treatment because that would be unethical.

Once you pass all the ethical requirements you bring people into the lab and under carefully controlled double-blind conditions they live with you for weeks at a time. You bring them to the lab and test various doses of these drugs with a physician and nurse present under highly medicalized conditions to make sure they are safe.

You do these types of manipulations. You make available an alternative or the drug and you allow them to make the choice. What you see is that crack-cocaine, methamphetamine is not uniquely addictive as we all have been told. We’ve been told that one hit of crack-cocaine you are addicted for life and you can’t say no.

These are people who are crack-cocaine addicts, methamphetamine addicts. What we see is they respond rationally just like you and me.

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DOUG McVAY: Canada has been leading the way in researching the efficacy of heroin-assisted treatment. H A T is typically reserved for patients with a hardcore opiate addiction for whom traditional substitution treatment options such as methadone and buprenorphine have failed.

Their first project, the North American Opiate Medication Initiative or NAOMI, ended some time ago. The research continues with the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness, or SALOME. Published research based on the data gathered through those projects shows that heroin-assisted treatment is effective – technically it's pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine, not street heroin, but I'll stick with the street name in order to minimize confusion.

The projects have been successful yet like all projects, they come to an end. So what happens to the addicts who have been successfully maintaining in these programs? Doctors involved in NAOMI and SALOME are understandably concerned about their patients, they don't want them to slip backward. So, some physicians approached the Canadian government to see about allowing their patients to continue receiving heroin-assisted treatment after their participation in the programs comes to an end. The Toronto Globe and Mail reported on September 20th that, quote:

“Health Canada on Friday authorized doctors to prescribe heroin to around 15 patients, The Globe and Mail has learned. The doctors had applied to Health Canada under its Special Access Programme (SAP), which grants doctors access to non-marketed or otherwise unapproved drugs for patients with “serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional therapies have failed, are unsuitable or unavailable,” according to a description on Health Canada’s website.” End quote.

Unfortunately, the drug warriors are not giving up without a fight. The ruling Canadian Conservative Party does not embrace harm reduction, rather they favor more of a US-style, enforcement-uber-alles approach to drug policy. According to Canada's Health Minister, Rona Ambrose, quote:

“This decision is in direct opposition to the government's anti-drug policy and violates the spirit and intent of the Special Access Program.” End quote. Minister Ambrose has vowed to make certain that such a decision will not happen again, though the Globe and Mail noted that it's uncertain whether the Minister could actually overturn the Health Canada decision.

There are reportedly 322 patients enrolled in the SALOME project. Now, fifteen of them will be able to transition out of SALOME and into a similar heroin maintenance program. The rest? For now, like the thousands of other heroin users and injection drug users in Canada, they're stuck.

In addition to the Canadian research, experience in Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Australia, and The Netherlands has also proven that heroin assisted treatment works. Some people find such an approach distasteful, just as some people hate the idea of giving out clean needles. Yet we can either adopt intelligent approaches to drugs which allow users to maintain their lives, reduce criminal involvement, and limit the impact on public health from their drug use; or we can keep doing what fails.

You can learn more about heroin assisted treatment, supervised injection facilities, and other innovative harm reduction ideas at Drug War Facts dot org.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy and Drug War Facts.

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DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Doug. Folks please do visit http://drugwarfacts.org

Here to close us out are the words of my good friend, Superior Court Judge James P. Gray.

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JAMES GRAY: Why would I as a now-retired superior court judge talk in favor of regulating and controlling marijuana particularly when I’ve never used marijuana or any other illegal drug?

Based upon my 25 years on the bench I have seen that the tougher we get in regard to drug crimes specifically marijuana literally the softer we get in regard to the prosecution of everything else.

We are actually giving robbers, rappers, and murderers reduced sentences or prosecuting less severely because we’re spending all these criminal justice resources on the prosecution of non-violent drug offenders.

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DEAN BECKER: It is good to have friends. You should check out the most recent Cultural Baggage show. It features my friend Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Next week we’re going to feature Mr. Grover Norquist. Please be sure to join us.

As always I remind you there is no justice involved in this drug war.

Prohibido istac evilesco!

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For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org