Fentanyl has overwhelmed the drug underworld in the past year, says author Sam Quinones. Among increasing overdose victims in Ohio, the composite picture is predominantly a white male, never married, age 25 to 54, with a high school education or less.
Powerful drug cartels in the U.S., South America and China are being joined by domestic illegal drug producers who filter the poison to a dealer network that frequently ends with drugs changing hands in someone’s living room. At least 16,971 Ohioans died of drug overdoses from 2010 to 2016. The composite picture is predominantly a white male, never married, age 25 to 54, with a high school education or less, reports the Columbus Dispatch. The flow of illegal drugs has been changing recently in a dramatic way. The new king of the jungle is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin that is being mixed with heroin, cocaine and even marijuana to hook users.
Fentanyl has overwhelmed the drug underworld in the past year, says Sam Quinones, author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” a book focusing on Ohio’s black tar heroin crisis. “Fentanyl has democratized the opiate business,” he said. “Now, you don’t have to control territory in Mexico where they grow the opium poppy. You can buy it (fentanyl) on the ‘dark web’ or you can make it anywhere. It can be shipped anywhere. Fentanyl has totally taken over. When a person dies from an overdose on the street, that is not a warning, it’s an advertisement.” A Dispatch analysis of state overdose death data shows disturbing trends. Accidental drug overdoses have jumped 162 percent in Ohio since 2010. Overdose deaths of never-married individuals have rocketed by 242 percent since 2010 and now make up more than half of the total. Victims are getting younger: In 2010, those ages 45-54 accounted for 30 percent of deaths. By 2016, that rate had fallen to 22 percent and those ages 25-34 now make up the largest group at 28 percent, a 6 percentage-point increase from 2010.
The Reverend Juan D. McFarland became pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in 1990. Three years later, he oversaw the construction of a new church complex near Alabama State University in Montgomery. While the 47-year-old …
The Reverend Juan D. McFarland became pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in 1990. Three years later, he oversaw the construction of a new church complex near Alabama State University in Montgomery. While the 47-year-old minister was still behind the Shiloh Missionary pulpit in 2014, he was no longer married. He had married twice, but both of his wives had divorced him.
On August 31, 2014, while delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Reverend McFarland told the congregation that God had directed him to reveal a secret. He said he suffered from full-blown AIDS. Two weeks later, on Sunday September 14, 2014, the Baptist pastor confessed to having had adulterous sexual encounters with female members of the congregation. The trysts, he said, took place in the church. He also informed those seated before him that he had used illicit drugs and had misappropriated church funds.
The confessing minister dropped the big bombshell on Sunday September 21, 2014 when he revealed that he had not told his sexual partners that he had AIDS. (In Alabama, knowingly spreading a sexually transmitted disease is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.)
The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Board of Deacons, on October 5, 2014, voted 80 to 1 to fire Pastor McFarland. The embattled preacher, however, made it clear that notwithstanding the deacons' desire to remove him from his position, he was not leaving his flock. He and a church member changed the locks on the church building to keep the deacons and other intruders out. Reverend McFarland also altered the number of the church's bank account. The church had $56,000 in the Well's Fargo bank.
On Sunday October 12, 2014, Pastor McFarland was again standing behind the pulpit preaching to his most loyal parishioners. He had posted guards at the church's doors to keep out detractors. To the fifty or so seated in the pews, the preacher said, "Sometimes the worst times in our lives are when we have a midnight situation. When you pray, you've got to forgive. You can't go down on your knees hating somebody, wishing something bad will happen to somebody."
The deacons of the church, obviously not in a forgiving mood, filed a court petition on October 14, 2014 asking the judge to order Reverend McFarland to return control of the church building as well as the bank account. The deacons also wanted the judge to force McFarland to give up his church-owned Mercedes Benz.
In support of the motion to remove this pastor from the church, the deacons accused him of "debauchery, sinfulness, hedonism, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, thievery, and refection of the Ten Commandments."
According to the deacons' petition, the pastor and church member Marc Anthoni Peacock had changed the church locks. Mr. Peacock had allegedly threatened to use "castle law" (deadly force in defense of one's home) to keep intruders out of the building. Julian McPhillips, an attorney for the church, wrote, "McFarland needs to get the message that he needs to be gone."
On October 16, 2014, at a hearing on the deacons' petition attended by Reverend McFarland, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price issued a preliminary ruling against the preacher that required him to turn over the keys to the church, give back the Mercedes, and release information regarding the bank account. The judge also banned McFarland from the church property.
People who use heroin and related drugs are sometimes so eager to get high, or so sick from withdrawal, that they’ll shoot up in the car as soon as they get their hands on more.
An SUV crashed in North Carolina after all four occupants overdosed on heroin. The same day, a Williamsport, Pa., man grabbed the steering wheel after his grandson lost consciousness while driving. Police in the city of 30,000 responded to 11 other overdose reports that day, including a woman who crashed her car just before a highway entrance. Car crashes caused by overdosing drivers are becoming so commonplace, authorities say, that some rescue crews immediately administer the antidote, naloxone, to any unresponsive driver they find after an accident, the Associated Press reports. People who use heroin and related drugs are sometimes so eager to get high, or so sick from withdrawal, that they’ll shoot up in the car as soon as they get their hands on more. Often they’re back on the road before the overdose takes hold, and they lose consciousness, a recipe for traffic accidents.
Police and rescue crews say drivers overdosing on heroin and other drugs are pushing up the number of car crashes. “There’s no waiting period like we used to see with other drugs where you go buy it, then go home and get high, or go to a party and get high,” said Scott Houston, a major with the sheriff’s office in Pamlico County, N.C., where the SUV crashed June 29. Drunken-driving deaths are on the decline, dropping 24 percent since 2006, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Meanwhile, deaths in crashes involving drugs are soaring. Ohio saw 4,615 drug-related crashes last year, an increase of more than 21 percent since 2013. Pennsylvania saw a similar spike, with drugged-driving crashes jumping from 3,019 in 2011 to 4,078 last year.
The jump in fatalities was driven by heroin and synthetic opioid use and by an increasing number of deaths among teenage girls, the National Center for Health Statistics reported.
The number of U.S. teens to die of a drug overdose leapt by almost a fifth in 2015 after seven years of decline, the National Center for Health Statistics has found. The jump in fatalities was driven by heroin and synthetic opioid use and by an increasing number of deaths among teenage girls, The Guardian reports. Deaths among teenagers represent a tiny portion of drug overdose deaths nationally, under two percent. The report comes just as the Trump administration struggles to craft a plan to fight an opioid epidemic that claimed more than 52,000 lives in 2015. “We wanted to document that in this age group there had been a decline [in deaths],” said Sally Curtin, lead author of the study. “The trends were unique for this age group. But, once again, it did increase again between 2014 and 2015.”
The report looked at the rate of overdose deaths for teens aged 15-19 between 1999 and 2015. Researchers found the rate of teens who died from a drug overdose dropped 26 percent between 2007 and 2014. Among boys, the death rate fell even more – by one-third. Yet in 2015, the rate of overdoses among teens increased by almost one-fifth. That year, 772 teens died of drug overdoses. For the better part of a decade, even as drug overdose rates nationally have soared, a declining number of teens have died of drug overdoses. Indeed, fewer teens reported even trying drugs. A 40-year-running, nationally representative survey called Monitoring the Future recently recorded the lowest rates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use among middle and high school students since the 1990s. Curtin cautioned that it was too early to sound alarms about a potential trend of teen deaths with just one year of data. The larger trends are ominous. Researchers found that the rate of overdose from synthetic opioids has increased sixfold since 2002, while heroin death rates have tripled.
Once a minor player in the drug crisis, the man-made narcotic — about 50 times stronger than heroin — is directly linked to thousands of overdoses and a shocking rise in fatalities nationwide.
Fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller, is exacerbating heroin’s deadly trap. In cities across the U.S., it is fueling deeper addiction and has become one of the most prominent killers linked to the nation’s drug crisis, reports the Washington Post. Says one addict in Philadelphia, “If you catch a pure bag of fentanyl, that Narcan ain’t bringing you back.” Like many other cities long mired in a battle against opioid addiction, Philadelphia is seeing the precipitous rise of illicit fentanyl. Once a minor player in the drug crisis, the man-made narcotic — about 50 times stronger than heroin — is directly linked to thousands of overdoses and a shocking rise in fatalities nationwide.
In 24 of the nation’s largest cities and the counties that surround them, fentanyl-related overdose deaths increased nearly 600 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to county health departments nationwide. Overdose records in those cities reviewed by the Post, there were 582 fatal overdoses linked to fentanyl in 2014, a number that soared to 3,946 last year. Officials estimate there will be a much higher number of fatal fentanyl-related overdoses in 2017. Law enforcement and public health officials are alarmed by the rate at which fentanyl has infiltrated the illicit drug market and how it is transforming the face of the drug crisis, which resulted in 60,000 fatal overdoses in 2016, more than half of which were from opioids. “If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction in what it can do to a community, it’s fentanyl,” said Michael Ferguson, the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New England division. “It’s manufactured death.”
Twenty-five applications have been filed to grow marijuana for research, but the main Justice Department refuses to let the Drug Enforcement Adminstration act on them.
The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration from taking action on more than two dozen requests to grow marijuana to use in research, one of a number of areas in which the anti-drug agency is at odds with the Trump administration, the Washington Post reports. A year ago, the DEA began accepting applications to grow more marijuana for research. As of this month, it had 25 proposals to consider. DEA officials said they need the parent Justice Department’s approval to move forward. So far, the department has not been willing to provide it. “They’re sitting on it,” said one law enforcement official. “They just will not act on these things.”
One senior DEA official said, “the Justice Department has effectively shut down this program to increase research registrations.’’ DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the agency “has always been in favor of enhanced research for controlled substances such as marijuana.’’ The standoff is the latest example of the premier narcotics enforcement agency’s finding itself in disagreement with the new administration. While President Trump and Sessions have vowed a crackdown on drugs and violent crime, DEA officials have publicly and privately questioned some of the administration’s statements and goals.
Reading from the Voice Media empire: Thirteen people associated with Hoppz’ Cropz stores in Colorado Springs, including co-owners Joseph Hopper, also known as “Joey Hops,” and Dara Wheatley, nicknamed “Boss Lady,” have been indicted on charges that they illegally distributed nearly 200 pounds of marijuana in a variation on the sort of “free” pot giveaway schemes that date back to […]
Reading from the Voice Media empire: Thirteen people associated with Hoppz’ Cropz stores in Colorado Springs, including co-owners Joseph Hopper, also known as “Joey Hops,” and Dara Wheatley, nicknamed “Boss Lady,” have been indicted on charges that they illegally distributed nearly 200 pounds of marijuana in a variation on the sort of “free” pot giveaway schemes that date back to [...]
The use of involuntary commitment for drug addiction is expanding across the country, as desperate families seek help for their loved ones. But it is likely to make things worse.
In May, nine people committed to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Plymouth briefly walked out from the minimum-security facility. State authorities mounted a manhunt, using helicopters and dogs to apprehend these treatment “patients.”
The episode illustrates a dangerously-blurred line between substance use treatment and prison, based on a statute that allows for involuntary commitment of “alcoholics or substance abusers.”
In this case, the facilities housing criminals and patients were, in fact, one and the same.
The Massachusetts provision—Section 35—allows family members, doctors and police to petition a judge to civilly commit an individual with substance use disorder, where the condition creates a “likelihood of serious harm.”
Across the US, at least 33 states have similar statutes, though their precise parameters and level of deployment vary widely. In Massachusetts, an individual can be ordered to a course of treatment for up to 90 days.
The use of this mechanism has rapidly expanded as the opioid crisis has worsened, used primarily by desperate families seeking to get help for their loved ones.
In some of the over 8,000 Section 35 commitments a year in the state, the mechanism is being invoked by the very individual who is to be committed. This is because many see Section 35 as the only—or the most expedient and cheapest—way to access treatment.
That highlights the perversion of our drug treatment system.
It’s easier to voluntarily submit oneself to “involuntary” treatment, just to receive rapid and free access to assistance. This is despite the fact that the path is through a coercive, criminal justice-based structure, rather than through normal health care navigation channels.
Drug users committed under this provision have committed no crime. Treating them as criminals and depriving them of agency and liberty without adequate justification violates basic constitutional and ethical principles, as recent and previous litigation has posited. To make matters worse, these individuals are now subject to being physically restrained in treatment facilities, raising concerns about possible physical abuse.
The parallel provision in Massachusetts law applying to mental health cases, such as cases of suicide risk, imposes only a three-day commitment and requires authorization from a mental health clinician. In contrast, Section 35 authorizes a person to be held for up to 90 days and considers clinical judgment non-binding.
Further, the rules of evidence do not apply to Section 35 hearings. And, for police and physicians, “committing” individuals through Section 35 recently became easier because a standing order in some courts now allows those petitioners to simply fax the petition rather than appearing in person.
In the meantime, police, family support groups, and others are disseminating information and instructions on how to “section” SUD-affected individuals.
As it turns out, coerced and involuntary treatment is actually less effective in terms of long-term substance use outcomes, and more dangerous in terms of overdose risk.
Though further research is needed to confirm these findings, there are several possible reasons for this. One is that recovery is much more likely when it is driven by internal motivation, not by coercion or force (i.e. the person must “want to change”).
Second, the state may actually route individuals to less evidence-driven programs on average (e.g. “detox”) than the kind of treatment accessed voluntarily (i.e. outpatient methadone or buprenorphine treatment).
Finally, those receiving care in outpatient settings may also receive services that help address underlying physical or mental health needs, which are often at the root of problematic substance use.
Another important concern is that mechanisms like Section 35 massively shift financial responsibility for substance use treatment from insurers directly to taxpayers. In Massachusetts, care provided under Section 35 has to be paid for by state public health dollars (or criminal justice dollars, depending on the location of commitment). In contrast, care received voluntarily is paid for by health insurers.
This is in addition to the fact that the gold standard for most people with opioid use disorder is outpatient treatment, which does not require “beds.” In other words, taxpayers are left holding the bag for something that is more costly, less effective, and more traumatizing. Misuse of those resources also raises questions about what alternative evidence-based investments could be made with those resources.
Despite these and other weighty concerns, policymakers in Massachusetts and elsewhere have looked to expand the scope of mechanisms like Section 35, because they seem them as a key tool in addressing the opioid crisis. The recent federal announcement of a public health emergency will likely accelerate this trend.
Across Massachusetts and throughout the U.S., families are desperate for solutions, but increased reliance on Section 35 is not the way to go. Many individuals who are in crisis are unable or unwilling to access help. There are formidable logistical, financial, and other barriers to receiving on-demand treatment and related services.
The way services are currently rendered is also a barrier.
Many users do not want to engage in existing programs because those programs use unproven methods and approach care in ways that traumatizes and denigrates patients. Others may simply not be ready to enter treatment.
Currently, there is no alternative mechanism that would trigger timely assistance and intensive case management of the kind that is necessary to support people in crisis and their families in non-coercive, evidence-driven way.
Any conversation about reducing over-reliance on involuntary commitment provisions like Section 35 must include a discussion of such alternatives.
Leo Beletsky is an Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences at Northeastern University. He’s on Twitter at @leobeletsky. Elisabeth Ryan is a Legal Fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Law, Northeastern University School of Law. She runs publichealthlawwatch.org, on Twitter at @phlawwatch. They welcome comments from readers.https://twitter.com/phlawwatch
Reading from the Voice Media empire: George Brauchler, who prosecuted James Holmes for the 2012 theater shooting that killed twelve people and injured seventy others, is running for governor in 2018 — and he’s using Shawn Geerdes’s conviction for murdering Jason Dosa nearly three years ago as an opportunity to criticize legal pot, even though the marijuana grow in which the […]
Reading from the Voice Media empire: George Brauchler, who prosecuted James Holmes for the 2012 theater shooting that killed twelve people and injured seventy others, is running for governor in 2018 — and he’s using Shawn Geerdes’s conviction for murdering Jason Dosa nearly three years ago as an opportunity to criticize legal pot, even though the marijuana grow in which the [...]
A private security firm battles pot traffickers who are destroying northern California’s pristine wilderness. LEAR Asset Management says it is filling a gap left by the depleting numbers of park rangers and game wardens.
When the blacktail deer population of California’s Mendocino County started to decline in the early 2000s, Paul Trouette began investigating why.
It didn’t take long to figure out. Mendocino County is part of an area of northern California, also encompassing neighboring Humboldt and Trinity Counties, that has been called the “Emerald Triangle” because of its production of cannabis plants.
Starting in the 1960s, busloads of hippies migrated to northern California’s redwood forests to tune in, turn on and drop out with the help of “weed”– Cannabis sativa.
But what started out as mellow recreation evolved into a billion-dollar business—accelerating with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996 which legalized medical marijuana. A decade later, in 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64 to legalize recreational pot.
While pot legalization has been celebrated in many quarters, it has also engendered an illegal grow industry powered by criminal cartels that developed to meet the increased demand. And those cartels, which illegally operate on private, federal and state lands, have in turn destroyed the habitat of wildlife such as the blacktail deer.
Trouette, 55, a former commissioner in Mendocino County’s Fish and Game Commission who has lived in northern California all his life, decided to do something about it.
Photo Courtesy LEAR
Trouette created a company called LEAR Asset Management Inc. to patrol privately owned wilderness areas and engage in what he calls “Counter Trespass Operations.” Established in 2012, the firm employs 15 to 20 contractors who are mostly non-deployed counter drug military, and federal protective security, as well as active law enforcement.
They are contracted by corporate clients to protect privately owned forests and wildlands, and they also perform forest reclamations that are frequently funded by government grants. They are tightly connected with all local, State and Federal agencies in jurisdictions where they operate, often working side by side on operations.
“Deep in the woods,” he says, “We cut down trespass marijuana, arrest growers and scrub the environmental footprint produced by the backwoods drug trade.”
Some might ask why a private security firm is doing work that should properly be done by law enforcement.
Thinning Ranks of Law Enforcement
But the ranks of law enforcement agencies tasked with protecting wilderness areas— game wardens, and rangers working for the Forest Service, National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management—are due to budget cuts that began in the Obama Administration.
This international drug trade rapes the landscape. Criminal groups who are setting up illegal marijuana grows on public and private forests and wildlands are measurably adding to the increase in crime and violence in America’s wilderness areas—even as they wreak environmental damage
The growers cultivate pot gardens with thousands of plants fed by miles of black plastic irrigation pipes that draw water from streams, mix it with illegal fertilizer and pesticides, and produce plants whose street value is now over $1,000 each.
Each plant in these gardens uses about 6-15 gallons of water per day over 150 watering days; and so a trespass grow site with 10,000 plants diverts 60,000 gallons of water per day, or 9 million gallons in a season. Little wonder that legal growers and farmers are complaining about water shortages.
Paul Trouette. Photo courtesy Paul Trouette.
These growers are all armed. They arrive not long after the snow melts and stay on site 24/7 until the crop is harvested. And they are fueling violence. If growers from two different groups decide to grow on the same area, they settle the claim with guns, burying the dead in the woods. Illegal growers also shoot at outdoor recreationists.
In 2011, Jere Melo, the former mayor of Fort Bragg,CA who was then a councilman, was killed while looking for a marijuana plot.
California has the most cartel-run illegal pot gardens, but they’ve been found in 20 other states and 67 national forests. The Emerald Triangle situation may well be a sign of what’s to come.
Weapon found at a pot trespass site. Photo by James A. Swan
Law enforcement agencies have made game attempts to address the challenge. In 1983, the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement established CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Production) to eradicate illegal marijuana cultivation and trafficking in the state. In 2011, Operation Full Court Press—a three-week raid carried out by CAMP —netted some 632,000 marijuana plants in and around the Mendocino National Forest, with a street value in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
California’s game wardens have also created a special tactical unit to eradicate illegal marijuana gardens, which I described in an earlier article for The Crime Report.
But they are now outmatched by the Emerald Triangle’s powerful cartels.
1.8 Million Pot Seedlings Planted Every Year
Grow areas are increasing, despite the best efforts of CAMP and the game wardens. It’s estimated that in Mendocino County alone, 1.8 million marijuana seedlings are planted every year. California’s legalization of pot has resulted in an even larger demand, which is being met by criminal cartels. The increased demand is associated with higher demand for marijuana, and cartels simply selling their crop in greater quantities and lower prices than at licensed stores.
LEAR Asset Management stepped in to assist Law Enforcement. They began patrolling private properties and that led to timber companies hiring LEAR to tackle the trespass problem. As time passed, LEAR has been accepted into interagency efforts.
“We don’t conduct vigilante activities,” Trouette said in an interview. “Our officers are licensed by the State of California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS).”
LEAR employees also receive certification from the California Department of Justice Rural Operations, and have received training by the elite Los Angeles Metro Police Department in Counter Terrorism response, he said.
James A. Swan
“We aren’t deputized—it isn’t necessary,” added Trouette. “We have arrest powers under the California Penal Code and our capabilities and working relationships with Law Enforcement are established. Our funding comes from government contracts and private contracts.”
In cooperation with federal and state law enforcement, LEAR has made a specialty of marijuana eradication, but the company also goes after wildlife poachers, water thieves and even fugitives
According to Trouette, LEAR Assets is the “only private security company in the U.S. that primarily focuses on wildlands conservation and protection.”
Are they the future of law enforcement in America’s embattled wilderness?