Monday, June 6, 2011

"The Faces of Death" - part 2 from the Tribune.

The Portland Tribune has a decent two part article that highlights the Gresham effort to stem drug flow by prosecuting those that sold the drugs that contributed to the death of the user. The "faces" refers to a binder maintained by Multnomah County deputy district attorney Ryan Lufkin that contains pictures of those who have overdosed on heroin.

One might recall that Multnomah County Sheriff's office had (and apparently still does) a "Faces of Meth" campaign. A look at a couple of the pictures demonstrates the destruction that comes from the use of meth.

Gresham police and Lufkin are not alone in the fight against heroin. The feds are involved using a federal statute (Len Bias law) to prosecute. It is not unusual to find that where local prosecution leaves much to be desired - the feds join in.

In my post on the 1st part of the article I noted that part one was well written, and was looking forward the second part where the Tribune promised: "Police and prosecutors explain why heroin is so hot in the Portland-metro area, why it’s so dangerous and what needs to be done about it.""

However, the second part requires a little digging to find the answers. Lufkin: “We [Portland Metro] are a Mecca for heroin users." One primary reason is location, location, location. It is the key factor that has led to this interesting statistic - a not wanted number one: "In 2007, Portland also ranked No. 1 in opiode overdose deaths per capita compared to San Francisco, Seattle, Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Atlanta."

Portland's location on a drug corridor has lead to increased availability and less consumer cost, thus making heroin a hot commodity. But it is the addiction that provides the demand. Logical and rational individuals would not continue to purchase such a commodity (drug} that has a high incident of death. Never mind that it is so devastating not only to the individual but to family, friends and society in general..

A question sought to be answer was why is heroin so dangerous, i.e., use leading to death. Several reasons were offered - one was quality of the product. It is a turkey shoot. It is a drug whose mid point is "dangerous" and on either side it is "lethal." But an interesting reason comes from the decreased availability of meth. State laws enacted to reduce the manufacture of meth work, but it has resulted in some switching to heroin.

Another interesting statistic and rational: "Lufkin said 22 percent of those who died of heroin overdoses in Multnomah County in 2007 died within 10 days of being released from the Multnomah County Detention Center." That time in jail decreased the users' tolerance, thus, the same dose taken before incarceration became lethal afterwards.

Finally what can be done to combat heroin use? From the article's perspective, the failure of the criminal justice system is clear. Tribune: "Oregon’s lenient drug laws make it a Mecca not only for users, but for dealers, too." And quoting Lufkin: “Oregon is the only state I know of where you can sell heroin four times and only get probation.”

That pretty much tells the story. One can argue that decriminalization (not legalization) of drug use, i.e., relating to the user not dealer) is a solution - but that must be carefully put into context of the drug. Arguably, heroin is not pot, but is it a gateway drug? And a differentiation between dealer and user must be made as well as consideration of the effect decriminalization might have on the supply.

But recent articles (E.g., see the Willamette Week) and press release by the Portland police casts doubts that Portland and Multnomah County will prosecute heroin sales. As an aside I see a difference in how drug sellers and users should be treated. The latter are addicted - the former take advantage of that addiction. And, lack of police and county enforcement only facilitates that transaction and continued addiction.