09/24/17 Lew Frederick

Century of Lies

The state of California is considering supervised consumption sites, and we speak with Oregon State Senator Lew Frederick about racial profiling, drug possession penalties, and House Bill 2355.

Audio file


SEPTEMBER 24, 2017


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Harm reduction policies are continuing to advance at state and local levels around the U-S in spite of the current federal administration. The state of California recently considered a bill to set up supervised consumption sites in that state. Assembly Bill 186 passed the California State Assembly, and was considered by the state senate in mid-September.

The California State Senate Committee on Public Safety held a hearing on the bill back in July. Some of that testimony is well worth hearing, so let’s give a listen. The first voice is the main sponsor of the bill, Democratic California Assembly Member Susan Eggman.

ASSEMBLY MEMBER SUSAN EGGMAN: In 2015, 45 people in my county died from an overdose. San Francisco, 92. And Los Angeles, 269 people died, and 774 were hospitalized. In a two week period last year here in Sacramento, 48 overdosed and 10 died. All those lives are lost, and the numbers aren't getting any better.

In 2011, drug overdose took over car accidents as the number one cause of accidental death. This, Senators, is an epidemic. The costs to emergency services have become so great that recently a council member in Ohio asked if they could stop responding to overdoses. Hospitals in California treated an overdose every 45 minutes.

We have an opportunity this year to try something new, not new to the world, but new to us, based on careful research with over 20 years of experience with these programs in Europe, Australia, and Canada. This AB186 is a permissive bill for local governments to allow the establishment of a supervised drug consumption pilot programs. This will sunset in 2024, and not more than 10 counties will be allowed to be a part of the pilot.

It is only opt-in, and places no mandate on locals, which is why the League of Cities is neutral on this. These programs help drug users become connected to services. You go into a safe place, it's analogous to needle exchange programs, you go into a safe place, you're allowed to use. In all the years of research, not one person has overdosed in these programs. Program staff then act as navigators, referring people into treatment, into detox, into ongoing care, into housing, into escaping domestic violence and human trafficking, escaping things or averting things like abscesses, catching them early. Housing issues.

That's what happens when people have a safe place to go, and we treat people with compassion, when we treat people like this is a public health problem versus a criminal problem. In our country we have chosen to treat this as a criminal issue versus a public health issue, and this year we have an opportunity to do something different.

The research is vigorous and has been well studied, and these programs demonstrate. They increase the number of people entering drug treatment and quitting drug use. Decrease in the number of people who die of drug overdoses. Decrease in the number of times that emergency services and police are dispatched to deal with a potentially fatal overdose, a decrease in the number of overdoses being treated in emergency rooms, a decrease in syringe litter, fewer dirty needles on the streets, and decrease in public use.

The benefit for the drug user is clear, and the cost to the taxpayer is huge. San Francisco did a study, and they found that having a supervised drug injection site would save taxpayers $3.6 million a year. That's because that's what this costs to have people in and out of jails, in and out of emergency rooms, and treating people like they don't matter.

The opposition will get up and say we are enabling this, this is a moral issue. But, what do we say to the 3,600 Californians who die every single year without a different option? Do you say you count, do we say your family counts, do we say we understand addiction is an ongoing issue? Do we say we understand that this is an epidemic and we need to have every tool in the toolbox? Or do we say this is too difficult, and it's a moral issue, and we don't want to pretend like we're enabling.

I don't know what people's experience with addiction is, but when people find themselves on the streets, homeless, near homelessness, using IV drugs, people are at the end of their ropes as it is. To reach out to them with some compassion and some safety just seems to me like the best public policy that we can establish.

The evidence is also strong that HIV infections, hepatitis C infections, decrease when people are sitting with healthcare professionals. Let's give them that option. Let's pilot these few programs in California, to cities and counties that want to be a part of this. Thank you, and we have people here to speak in support.

RICKY BLUTHENTHAL, PHD: Good morning. My name is Ricky Bluthenthal. I'm a professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. I'm a UC Berkeley trained sociologist and I've conducted research on health promotion and disease prevention among people who use drugs in California since 1991.

As the Assemblymember pointed out, we're in the midst of a significant drug related health crisis, with increases in prescription drug use and heroin use being widely reported. In California, we lost nearly 2,000 people to opiate overdose in 2015, and have 4,000 Californians visit emergency rooms as a consequence of opiate use.

We need to try new ways of preventing these needless harms. One strategy is safe consumption services. At present there are nearly a hundred consumption service sites operating in ten countries globally. Studies have established that safe consumption sites reduce overdose mortality rates, HIV and viral hepatitis, and improve access to health and social services.

It's no surprise that the American Medical Association has endorsed piloting consumption services in the United States. Research indicates that safe consumption sites do not increase crime. In a study comparing trends the year before and after the establishment of a site in Vancouver, found no increases in drug trafficking, assaults, or robberies, and declines in vehicle break-ins and thefts in the neighborhood of the site.

A similar study reviewing ten years of crime data from Sydney, Australia, showed no increase in drug selling or drug crimes near the safe consumption site.

Of equal importance, safe consumption sites reduce injections in public settings, including rest rooms of restaurants, libraries, social service agencies. Public injecting is common in this population. In my ongoing study we find in Los Angeles and San Francisco that 80 percent of our participants report injecting in public rest rooms of social service and health -- social and health service agencies.

Moving these injections into a controlled environment, where health risks are substantially reduced and public order is improved, is an important benefit of site -- consumption sites. They're also a conduit to treatment. In Vancouver, 57 percent of safe consumption service participants have started treatment and 23 percent have stopped injection drug use, according to the most recent study. And they have real economic benefits.

Our own study, looking at San Francisco, found a $3.6 million potential savings in local budget, if a site were implemented there. Given these substantial benefits, I hope that you will vote yes on this life-saving service. Thank you.

STATE SENATOR NANCY SKINNER: Next witness, please.

VITKA EISEN, MSW, EDD: Hi, thank you for having me here. My name is Doctor Vitka Eisen, and I am the CEO of Healthright 360, also a Berkeley resident. And, Healthright 360 is the largest nonprofit provider of substance use disorder treatment in the state of California. Additionally I'm the vice president of the board of directors of CAADPE, which is the state association of treatment providers. I also have thirty years of experience in the field of substance use disorder treatment, an MSW, I have a doctorate from Harvard. Finally, I am a former injection heroin user, and a person in long term recovery, which for me means it's been 32 years since I've used drugs.

My journey to recovery included at least 8 visits to detox, at least 6 attempts at treatment, various treatment episodes, and two hospitalizations, one through the emergency department. My colleagues like to tease me and say I was one of those high cost users of multiple systems. But I'd like to think that my life subsequent to that has been a good return on investment of the system of care.

I speak here in support of AB186, for two principle reasons. One is that a dead person never gets another shot at recovery. As you can see from my story, there are many attempts. A dead person never gets another chance.

California has the largest number of people who die from overdose deaths in the country. Now we don't have the highest rate because we are a big state, but we have the largest single number of overdose deaths in the country. That's CDC data from 2015. And the second reason is that supervised injection services offer a bridge to care. As you can see from my story and my story's really pretty common, it's not dissimilar from many, many people in -- who are in recovery. There were many, many touch points along the way, and those that met me with welcoming arms and with compassion moved me along to a place where I could achieve some kind of long term health and recovery.

So, if I can do one thing today, I would like to dispel a myth that people who have substance use disorders need to hit rock bottom in order to recover. Many people have hit rock bottom and continue to use. And many people, rock bottom, they actually die before they hit that place in their life.

So, if we think that this is coddling people who have an addictive disorder, you have to understand, in all of my years of work, people live in a tremendous amount of misery and continue to use drugs. They live in despair and shame, and shame only produces -- people can -- desire for people to continue to use drugs. And the only antidote for that is hope. And hope is offered in places like this, where people are met with compassion, and with no judgment. So that eventually, they're able to take those steps to heal themselves. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: You just heard California State Assembly Member Susan Eggman, Professor Ricky Bluthenthal, and Vitka Eisen, speaking before the California State Senate’s Committee on Public Safety on July 12, 2017, in favor of Assembly Bill 186, which would have allowed for legal supervised drug consumption sites in the state. Unfortunately the bill failed to pass. The bill is expected to come back up when the state legislature reconvenes in January 2018.

You are listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The state of Oregon recently approved a criminal justice reform measure, House Bill 2355, which dealt with racial profiling and with drug penalties. We’ve spoken about that bill on a previous show. I had the honor recently of speaking to an Oregon state senator who was involved in that bill’s successful passage, State Senator Lew Frederick. Here’s part of that interview.

HB2355 -- House Bill 2355 was passed this session, signed by the governor recently. It has two purposes --



OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: Three purposes, yeah. But go ahead.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I know the -- I know the racial profiling segment, data collection and reporting. Then there's also the penalty reduction for first offenders.

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: What I call de-felonization.

DOUG MCVAY: De-felonization. I would say it's a step along the way toward decriminalization, of course, I'm a person who thinks decriminalizing offenses like drugs is a good idea, so, I'm okeh using it personally, I like the idea.

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: Well, I want to make the distinction primarily because of folks who, initially there were groups who jumped up and said, they're decriminalizing it, they're letting anybody who -- No. There was, it was -- it's, basically you get two chances to say, listen, I was just using this, this was not -- I was not selling, all those kind of things. So, because we were getting people who were being put in prison for small possession issues, and they needed to deal with it in a different way, in my view.

The third part was dealing with training. And that's -- and I think that's an important part, dealing with training related to, especially related to how present police officers and new police officers might deal with profiling issues. And I think that's an important and distinctive new approach, because what we run into is folks being trained in a certain kind of escalation, and that once they get into the service, you know, into an agency, they stay with that or the supervisors tell them, don't pay attention to what you heard there. But with the continuing training of folks who are already working as police officers and in law enforcement, I think that's an important part.

DOUG MCVAY: Very much so, I mean, obviously, the data reporting and analysis will be one thing, but unless officers actually act on what -- unless the system acts on it, and officers adjust their behavior, then, what good is getting the data? Oh look, we're continuing to do badly. We have to correct it.

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: Exactly. And, we know that DPSST, which is the training -- the police college, if you will, that they have already started, they've already been doing a number of things like that. But, again, the folks who are already working on the street, or the supervisors of the new people coming in, they haven't been looked at and talked -- anyone's talked with them and said, we've got a new approach to this.

I mean, for many of them, it was a -- you're an authority and you do this right away and you tell those folks, and if they don't listen to you then you exert your authority even more and the escalation ladder was something that -- well, the DPSST has looked at it in a different way and said, maybe we need to de-escalate, and so that's part of that bill as well. So those three parts, I think, begin a process of changing the general attitude and the general approach, and I think -- I believe will show us that we can do things in a different way that will be helpful to the whole community.

DOUG MCVAY: Actually before we get into the details, I should -- one of the things I most appreciate about the bill, I mean, as I say, I'm a -- I do drug policy work, and so de-felonization is I think a great step, but, the criminal justice analysis part, I'm so grateful for the requirement about data collection. One of things in there that's specific is ethnicity, because as you're -- I presume you're aware, that's a thing the state does not collect. You get -- you can find white, African American, native American, Asian, but Latino is missing. Those numbers just get thrown in with the whites, which is just wrong, and you could argue that maybe it's done just to hide the presence of Latinos within the system. Well --

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: And I understand that. I -- yeah. Part of it, part of what happened, this is what's important for me. There's a process that we dealt with. I started talking about and asking for those kinds of, for that kind of data back in 2011. And other people have been asking for it before me. So, it wasn't a new idea. We began a process of trying to make the case for the legislature and for law enforcement, and the judiciary, that this was an important thing. It takes a while to make that case to some folks. But, sometimes, things happen that help make that case. And national video, national cases, helped that.

And the clear knowledge that we were dealing with a much larger Latino population than folks wanted to admit. The governor signed the Latino -- Hispanic Heritage Month bill yesterday, I think it was, or the day before, and they -- talking about the same kind of thing, because we started to see, people started to recognize that we're talking, I think it's at least one in five kids in school in Oregon are Latino. When you start to see that kind of a change, you can't ignore certain things.

And so we started to see other groups come together to work on this. Kayse Jama and his team of folks from Unite Oregon --

DOUG MCVAY: Unite Oregon, yeah.

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: But he was, his group before that, he had a group of young people who went out around the state and talked with other folks and said, are you seeing this as a problem? And would you mind writing down your story or coming in to talk with folks about it? They did that, that's why we were able to pass the bill in 2015, that said, let's do a study on this. Let's do at least a couple of, some research on it.

The attorney general and her team went out, Urias Johnson and group, went to different places, held hearings that were extraordinary. And they talked about the ethnicity issues, they talked about a number of other issues: poverty, LGBT, youth issues, how they were addressed on the MAX and how they were addressed in Medford and in Coos Bay. All of these things came to bear. And it made a difference. And so that's why the attorney general, if you noticed that the bill was sponsored by the attorney general. When she came, she said, we need to do this in a different way. I said, you know, I'll support it, I couldn't co-sponsor it because it was by the attorney general, but I basically tried to do just that. So did a number of other folks.

And we were able to get that point across. But we also got across, I mean, one of the reasons that I think the de-felonization passed was because the Oregon Chiefs of Police and the Oregon Sheriffs Association came forward and said, we agree with this. We need to, and one of the reasons that they agreed with us, they said, it's very clear to us that we have a disparate enforcement, a disparate situation where people are being pulled over and the judiciary has been clearly including, clearly a problem for ethnicity -- African American, Latino, others, and native American, and Asian. Saying, they are getting addressed differently than others. We need to change that.

And it's not effective. It's not working for us. It doesn't do what we think it should be doing. So let's re-think this.

DOUG MCVAY: So, if I understand, it's going to, the data collection and the training will be concurrent? Or how ... ?

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: They're going to continue to look at how they can best do this. We already have some of the training down, it's just a matter of expanding it to folks who are already on the force.

DOUG MCVAY: Okeh. It's just that -- I was at a criminal justice research in, gosh, 2002, yeah, 2002, maybe 2003, Boston. Justice Research and Statistics Association used to have these brilliant conferences, and we were doing a look at NIBRS, the National Incident Based Reporting System, which is supposed to replace the Uniform Crime Reports. One of the, there's a criminologist in the room, they were doing a demonstration of the data and looking at all things that they can see, and one of the professors pointed out, look at the neighborhood that you've got there, I know that neighborhood, that's a largely Latino neighborhood, and yet, all of these incidents that you've got there, all the indicators you're showing that all of these people who are being stopped and arrested, all these are white people in this predominantly Latino neighborhood.

So, there's something wrong with this. And like, oh, yeah, well, that's because the Latino ethnicity is still an optional report. And it's -- they've been working on this for, this was in the early 2000s, working on it for so long, I mean, ultimately, is one of the reasons why the Criminal Justice Commission -- that's one of the reasons why the UCR here hasn't been collecting that, it wasn't required by the feds. Still isn't.


DOUG MCVAY: So, it's, --

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: Well, we ... You know, what you're identifying is sort of holes in the system that folks don't really want to acknowledge, because if they do, then they're going to have to do something about it.

DOUG MCVAY: And that's the tricky part, like, oh, I guess we've got to fix it, and that's --

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: We've got to fix it, and who's going to be responsible for fixing it? And who's going to be responsible if it's not fixed? So, you have those two things that come into bear there.

DOUG MCVAY: All right, let's talk for a moment, jump over to de-felonization, because this is a major thing, and that too, the police, the chiefs of police and the sheriffs supported.

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: Absolutely. They were the primary, one of the primary groups supporting it.

DOUG MCVAY: You've got a few people --

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: Very visibly, too, not, yeah that's a good idea, they came and they spoke at news conferences. They came and they spoke in the committee hearings on this.

DOUG MCVAY: I've got, I did a -- I do a few different shows, and I was looking at the testimony in that final, the Joint, is it the Joint Ways and Means?

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: Yeah, Joint Ways and Means Committee. Oh yeah, that was an interesting -- that was interesting testimony.

DOUG MCVAY: You had the, Kimberly McCullough from ACLU, you had Kayse --


DOUG MCVAY: Kayse Jama from Unite Oregon there. And you also had Josh Marquis show up on his own. I mentioned he took exception to something I said about him. I said that, or at least I characterized part of what he said as, well, we don't really put people in jail for petty possession anyway, I mean, specifically, what he said was:

"We are very concerned, there's really not a war on drugs in Oregon, let's be honest, as somebody who's in court every day, the idea that, that we, as the ACLU says, have harsh drug sentences in Oregon, is frankly ludicrous. The sentence for your fourth conviction for heroin in my county is ten days in jail, probably eight of which will -- is served in jail, in fact after two days you'll probably be released."

Now, that sounded to me like he was trying to say to you, the legislators, that there's no reason for de-felonizing this first offense stuff, we don't really deal with people by putting them in jail for this stuff anyway. He objected to my characterization of that. I sent him the transcript so he could see that that's what he said. That was pretty much where we left it, actually, was --

OR STATE SENATOR LEW FREDERICK: Well, you know, I'm not going to try to argue with Marquis right now here. Let me put it another way, for me. And it's -- it is related to felony. If you have a felony conviction, and you try to get a job, or you try to get an apartment, or a scholarship, an education, felony conviction has a very different issue than a misdemeanor. Very different.

And yet, you can get -- that is a, and it's a mark that is indelible on anything that you try to do from now on. I have enough folks who, if -- enough stories, that we had enough stories of people who had had small possession, but they suddenly had a felony conviction. Now, what does that do to a community? In my view, it does an awful lot. If you have, and especially if you have law enforcement targeting those folks, let's see, you know, those folks, they're going to have some drugs on them, that's, we're sure of that. Even if they don't necessarily. They're going to have drugs on them, so we're going to check them out.

Turns out of course that the amount of drugs are usually, as, and maybe even smaller than the majority population, but they're going to be picked, checked out, more often. So you end up with a lot of people with felony convictions. Well, if they have felony convictions and they can't get jobs, and they can't get housing, and they can't get education, what happens to that community? Well, that community starts to fall apart.

There's a great documentary called Thirteenth that speaks to that issue. I want to see some way of breaking through that wall that says -- that has been created around certain communities. I want to see families develop. And, if you can't get a job, it's difficult for you to really have a solid family life. If you can't get housing, you can't do that. If you can't get education, you can't do that. So, this is a small piece, a small part, but I think it may have a larger impact if we are able to move from a felony conviction to a misdemeanor, to maybe even less than that.

But if we start really talking about how we deal with treatment, and that's part of this bill as well, how we start dealing with treatment, rather than placing someone in a jail cell, as if that is going to be treatment, to help them when they get out. That doesn't work. So, that's what I'm looking at. It's a much longer, larger picture than just a particular conviction, or trial, of one form. I think that if we start to deal with the felony issue in a much larger sense, we start to actually have an impact on a whole community effort. And that's what I want to see happen.

DOUG MCVAY: That was part of an interview with Oregon State Senator Lew Frederick. We were discussing House Bill 2355, which was recently signed by Governor Kate Brown. Passage of that bill was a real win for drug policy and criminal justice reform.

And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’ve been your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.