Deputy Chris Cunningham, Eaton Assistant Prosecutor Adrienne Van Langevelde, Judge Julie Reincke, and attorney Rob Portman. Judge Reincke presides the Eaton County’s drug and sobriety court.
Photo by Howard T. Spence
By Howard T. Spence
Using heroin and opioid drugs without a medical prescription is a crime on the Michigan and federal law books. Because using illegal drugs is a crime, some have characterized the heroin and opioid drug epidemic as being a “law enforcement problem” which should be solved by more forceful and extensive arrests and prosecutions of those who use or share these opioid drugs and heroin illegally. Those arguing for cracking down on use of heroin and opioids argue that law enforcement should be more aggressive to arrest people who they encounter who are using these drugs. In response to this approach, law enforcement organizations have developed specialized units that focus on reducing illegal drug use. While the primary objective of such law enforcement efforts has been to arrest people who are selling or manufacturing illegal drugs, the reality is that most of the persons who end up arrested as the result of these drug busts are users of the illegal drugs. In the mid-Michigan area, several law enforcement agencies have banded together to fight drug crime in an organization known as the Tri-County Regional Drug Task Force.
Historically, local prosecutors have prosecuted people who have been arrested for using heroin and opioid drugs, and judges have routinely convicted and sentenced those who arrested who use these drugs such as heroin and opioids to jail. The simplistic view of some has been that drug addiction is a crime, and drug users should be incarcerated to protect society from crime caused by drug addicts, and to protect the drug users “from themselves” before they become overdose victims and lose their lives.
More recently many involved in dealing with the current heroin and opioid epidemic have characterized this escalating problem as one which needs a medical or clinical treatment response rather than a law enforcement response. They advocate for prevention of people becoming addicted, and for non-criminal treatment interventions of persons who are addicted to help them develop coping mechanisms or medical based treatment of their addiction needs.
Those approaching the current opioid epidemic from a therapy and treatment perspective advocate for and work to help people who become addicted manage their addiction and avoid death by overdose. They argue that the law enforcement approach to the heroin and opioid drug epidemic should only be directed towards those who distribute these dangerous and illegal drugs rather than towards those who are themselves “victims” using and dying from use of these drugs.
There is a decided trend and growing sense of urgency now addiction to heroin and opioid is becoming widespread. The call even from law enforcement officials is for attempting to implement treatment rather than repeated incarcerations to prevent deaths from abuse and overdose of opiate drugs. Most law enforcement officials now realize that this opioid epidemic is not one that can be controlled by merely locking up the millions of people for illegal use of these drugs.
Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth, at a July 2017 meeting of the Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham counties (CMH-CEI) Elected Officials Quarterly meeting described how his department and other local law enforcement agencies are working with the Michigan State Police to develop means by which law enforcement agencies can modify their approach to drug addicts they encounter to become a part of the approach to getting treatment of heroin and opioid drug abusers without having to make arrests when they encountered such people in possession of the illegal drugs or in overdose situations.
“The handling of drug addicts is a major conflict issue or problem for law enforcement agencies,” said Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth. “We in law enforcement want to be a part of the solution to reducing the number of deaths by heroin and opioid drug users who overdose, and we have been seeking guidance from prosecutors and the courts on how we could do that without violating our statutory mandates to enforce the laws by making arrests when we encounter crimes. Sometimes people who are in the presence of someone who is using and overdosing on drugs have been afraid to take actions to get law enforcement or even EMS first responders involved to provide medical treatment when one of their friends with whom they are with using drugs overdoses. We have been working on ways to encourage them to get us involved to help prevent such overdose deaths without fear that they themselves will be arrested for using drugs when the police officers or EMS first responders arrive or when they call. The Michigan State Police and some local prosecutors and courts are helping us arrive at a lawful way for us to be involved more effectively in preventing overdose deaths without violating our duty to arrest in every instance where there appears to be evidence of the crime of using prohibited drugs. Our state legislature has also been looking at ways to address this conflict problem to help protect the lives of drug addicts caught up in this heroin and opioid epidemic.”
Several non-profit organizations have been formed in Michigan and locally to address ways to help law enforcement interact better to save lives of drug addicts caught up in the heroin and opioid epidemic. Among such organizations are the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (PAARI), the state police “Angel’s Program,” and local police supported non-profit programs in Ingham and Eaton counties of the Families Against Narcotics (FAN) program.
The Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (PAARI) describes its mission as follows: “For decades, police officers have been on the front lines of the war on drugs. To disrupt an ever-increasing supply chain, police officers often find themselves arresting drug addicts as much, if not more so, than drug dealers and traffickers. In the meantime, heroin and opioid addiction has become a severe public health concern in the United States, destroying and often ending lives... Under this plan, drug addicts who seek help are placed in a recovery program rather than face arrest and jail time…”
Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich also is one of the local leaders in law enforcement who is moving forward to emphasize the need for treatment and recovery of addicts before they overdose or allow their addiction to get them involved in more serious criminal activity to support their addiction.
“We are seeing the impact of this heroin and opioid addiction problem beginning to be much more noticeable even right here in Eaton County,” said Sheriff Reich. “I was one of the first law enforcement officials in our area to direct that my deputies begin to carry Narcan® in their patrol vehicles. Often a member of law enforcement is one of the first responders to a scene where someone has overdosed on an opioid drug or heroin. My deputies were among the first in the mid-Michigan area to carry and use Narcan®, and their use of Narcan® has already saved lives of several persons overdosing here in Eaton County.”
Sheriff Reich also has noted that there seems to be some backlash among some members of the local community against a more treatment oriented approach to dealing with drug addicts.
“I have dedicated my career to 30 years in law enforcement to protecting lives of those who encounter law enforcement or need help and protection,” stated Sheriff Reich. “That includes not only victims of crime, but also those who may have been involved in criminal activity too. My deputies only a couple of weeks ago responded to a situation where an opioid addict overdosed in a restroom in Delta Township. My deputies there working in the Delta Patrol were able to save that woman’s life by responding quickly and administering dosages of Narcan®. However, I was disgusted and saddened to later see some very aggressive and insensitive comments posted by some people on Facebook and social media about that incident which suggested that my deputies should have just allowed the woman to die from her overdose situation ‘because she got what she deserved.’ That type of response to our life saving efforts is inappropriate and inconsistent with good community policing and our mission to save lives.”
Professional mental health and drug abuse treatment specialists work with local law enforcement agencies to help address drug addiction which is a part of the current heroin and opioid addiction epidemic Sara Lurie, Executive Director of Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Eaton counties, pointed out some of the collaboration efforts of treatment specialists with law enforcement here in mid-Michigan.
“We are fortunate that across the Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham tri-county area that coalitions and collaboration between Substance Use Disorder prevention and treatment providers, public health and law enforcement agencies had already been steadily growing over the past 10 years,” stated Ms. Lurie. “This has put us in a good position to work together to step up efforts to address the growing opioid crisis. Law Enforcement Agencies and Emergency Responders in our area were among the first in Michigan to use Narcan in the field to save lives in cases of overdose. In addition, this year over 100 officers from across the tri-county area have participated in 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team Training equipping them to recognize, de-escalate, and intervene with individuals experiencing a behavioral health related crisis including Substance Use Disorder. Through their involvement in these efforts, law enforcement officials of the Tri-County region have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to obtain training and resources to problem solve for people in crisis and avoid forceful interventions and arrests.”
Ms. Lurie further described some of the programs where treatment agencies and law enforcement agencies collaborate to help address the problems of addiction.
“Other efforts in our tri-county area include participation in the Michigan State Police Angel Program whereby individuals struggling with addiction can request assistance in finding a treatment placement through any Michigan State Police Post. We also have a strong network of treatment providers in the public system in our area that serves individuals who have Medicaid, or are uninsured or under-insured. As part of this network, Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham Counties (CMHA-CEI) currently operates a sub-acute detox program in Lansing called The Recovery Center that can admit individuals 24 hours/day. We routinely work with local law enforcement agencies, emergency responders, and hospital emergency departments to utilize this resource. To meet the demand for medically assisted services for those with heroin or opioid addiction we have been working to incorporate more specialized addiction medical management into The Recovery Center and anticipate having this in place by October 1, 2017.”
In addition to law enforcement, recovery therapists and drug abuse specialists working with the courts help drug addicts gain some control of their addiction. In Ingham and Eaton County, local judges also play a major role in dealing with efforts to control and prevent continued drug use that is not only detrimental, but in some instances life threatening to drug addicts. In Ingham county Judge Donald Allen of the 55th District Court and in Eaton County Judge Julie Reincke of the 56th District Court head specialty “drug and sobriety courts” dealing with persons involved in crime related to use of drugs such as heroin and opioids as well as alcohol abuse.
According to Judge Allen, the aim of these sobriety courts is to help those who are addicted to substance abuse gain control of their addictions so that they can lead more normal and productive lives, stay alive, and contribute to the stability and support of their families as well as themselves.
“Addiction is addiction, no matter what the substance of abuse is,” said Judge Allen. “Most people who end up addicted never thought that they themselves would ever end up addicted. People who become addicted stand a good chance of losing everything – families, homes, jobs, and self-respect in the community. The very definition of addiction is ‘chaos’ – your life is out of control. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease which leads in many cases to recidivism in the criminal justice system. Many courts have understood this for years. Many judges and courts are sensitive to this issue and try to work with law enforcement and others in the community to help addicts stay alive and leading more normal, productive lives.”
But Judge Allen acknowledged that not all courts and members of the public in some areas of Michigan are buying in strongly to a more therapeutic approach to addiction treatment of people who encounter the criminal justice system. “Judges, as elected officials, tend to reflect the attitudes and wishes of those persons in their jurisdictions who vote to elect them,” said Judge Allen.
Eaton County Judge Julie Reincke echoed similar sentiments when explaining her interaction with people who are addicted come before her in her court room based on alleged involvement in criminal activity.
“Sitting in my Eaton County courtroom, I have reason every day to fear for the lives of many of my defendants,” stated Judge Reincke. “I see people challenged by addictions beyond what I can imagine facing. I see people who show amazing courage on their journeys of recovery. I see people dying after years of struggle and heartbreak. This horrible addiction is afflicting people in all walks of life. The pain they and their families experience is immense. We have wonderful probation officers, treatment providers, support group communities and families wanting to help these fellow citizens. But their path is so difficult.”
Judge Reincke reflected on some cases she recalled vividly involving addicts who had appeared before her in court cases: “One young woman was released to her father to be taken from jail to residential substance abuse treatment. En route, she jumped out of the car at a stoplight and was later found overdosed in a restaurant restroom. She was saved by Narcan and some quick EMT’s. She is still alive. A young man was living in a sober living residence, maintaining sobriety, then relapsed, administering a dose of heroin similar to what he had customarily used prior to his period of sobriety. It was too much for his body to handle and he died. Another young man was a high school athlete who suffered an injury and was prescribed opiates for the pain. He became addicted and now struggles hard with a heroin addiction. A young woman with a child she dearly loves reported to her counselling agency for a drug test shortly after using a large dose of an opiate. She passed out on the floor of the agency and was given CPR by another defendant who happened to be there. EMT’s arrived shortly with Narcan and her life was saved. She is now in jail with her future as a young mother in jeopardy.”
For information or referrals to substance abuse treatment services in the Greater Lansing area please contact CMHA-CEI Central Access at 1-888-800-1559 or 517-346-8318
For more information on detox services you can also directly contact The Recovery Center at 1-855-TRC-DTOX (1-855-872-3869) or 517-267-7623
For more information on the Tri-County Crisis Team visit the website at http://www.tricountycit.com/
For more information on the Michigan State Police Angel Program call 517-284-3208 or visit the website at MSP-Angel@michigan.gov
For more information on prescription drug abuse prevention and medication disposal sites in the area visit http://www.capitalcountiescommit.org/
Disclaimer: The writer of this article, Howard T. Spence, is solely responsible for the content of the article and the information therein. Howard T. Spence is Eaton County Commissioner from Delta Township. The views and information provided in this article are his alone, and do not reflect the policies or positions of Eaton County government, CMH – CEI, or any other government agency, nor the official position of the publisher of The New Citizens Press newspaper.
Editor’s Note: This article is Part II of three articles addressing the serious heroin and opioid addiction and overdose problem, which is impacting America. The series will continue in The New Citizens Press with an article regarding the personal impact on families. The other articles may be found on www.tncp.net.
Printed in the August 20, 2017 - September 2, 2017 edition