Felony drug charges being used to get overdose victims help

Article Date:

FELONY DRUG CHARGES

Dane County prosecutors are increasingly filing felony drug charges against people who have had drug overdoses.

2005: 9

2006: 4

2007: 1

2008: 3

2009: 11

2010: 24

Dane County Assistant District Attorney Ken Farmer calls it the "make them drink" philosophy.

But others wish it didn't take a felony drug possession charge - an increasingly popular tactic among prosecutors - to get overdose survivors into treatment.

In 2010, 23 people who suffered drug overdoses severe enough to be revived by paramedics or in emergency rooms were charged in Dane County with felony drug possession in connection with the overdose incidents, court records show. That's up from nine in 2005 and just one in 2007.

Prosecutors say the intention is to get overdose survivors into court-mandated drug treatment programs, not to get felony convictions.

But only 17 of the 51 people charged between 2005 and 2010 ended up in Dane County Drug Treatment Court, the records show, and 18 resulted in felony convictions. Many of the cases filed in 2010 are still working their way through the courts.

"If there was any other way to get them into treatment, we would do it," said Farmer, a longtime drug prosecutor. "But this is all we've got."

 

Use of opiates has grown

The number of felony cases involving overdose survivors has grown in recent years as the use of heroin and other opiates has grown in Dane County. All but seven of the 51 cases involved heroin overdoses.

"In order to get them into treatment we have to charge them to get them into drug court," Farmer said. "If you let the overdoses go, what happens is they get treatment on their own or they die. I didn't want to sit back and let that happen."

Of the 34 people charged but who didn't end up in drug court, a few were referred but didn't qualify. A few others either quit drug court or declined to participate. And a few more took part in the Dane County Day Report and Treatment (DART) program, a pre-adjudication jail diversion and treatment program.

Only two people convicted of the felonies ended up in prison, and in both cases it was after their probation had been revoked by the state Department of Corrections for committing other crimes.

Assistant Public Defender Dorothea Watson, who has represented three overdose survivors charged in the past two years, said the approach adds a layer - the criminal justice system - onto what is a treatment need.

"If there was any better way to deal with these people, if there was more treatment available in the community, we wouldn't have to use the criminal justice system," Watson said.

Contradictory messages

The policy has gotten mixed reviews among advocates who work with drug addicts.

Meghan Ralston, harm reduction coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that has criticized the "war on drugs," said the Dane County practice sends contradictory messages to those who are charged.

"Number one, we've got compassion for you and we want to do the right thing and get treatment for you," Ralston said. "But also we're going to get you a felony conviction that's going to hang with you for the rest of your life."

Instead of involving courts and lawyers in the lives of overdose survivors, she said, medical personnel should be called in to address the problem.

Shelly Dutch, director of Connections Counseling, a Madison drug treatment program, agreed. But she said that getting treatment even for people for whom it is ordered by courts can be very difficult, between waiting lists and the cost.

"Punishment isn't enough," Dutch said. "It isn't even addressing the primary issue."

Mike Florek, president of Tellurian UCAN in Madison, said that sometimes for the families of opiate addicts, getting the legal system involved is the only way to deal with their volatile situations.

"I can't tell you how many times I've told parents to call the police," he said.

And likewise, he said, some recovering addicts have said that was the best thing that ever happened to them.

 

ED TRELEVEN | etreleven@madison.com | 608-252-6134

Read more

WMSN-TV: Teenagers and Addiction

Article Date:

It's an all too familiar story -- young people hooked on substances that destroy their lives and tear apart families.  But there is hope.

In a focus on health special report, Fox 47 talked with three people who are pulling themselves from the brink.

In telling us their stories, they say recovery is long, painful, but worth every sober minute.

Every day, in our neighborhood, people are abusing drugs. And they start when they're young.

A 2008 report from the Department Of Health Services says 37% of Wisconsin teenagers
tried marijuana and 23% took prescription pain relievers for non-medical purposes

Connor, 16, started drinking at age 12 -- soon he was smoking pot and abusing prescription drugs.

Read more

WKOW-TV: Prescription Drug dangers

Article Date:

MADISON (WKOW) -- Pharmacists and drug counselors are warning people about the dangers of drug overdose, after a 13-year-old Edgerton boy died after taking Oxycontin.

Oxycontin is known to cause side effects including dizziness, headaches, and nausea.

"It's a painkiller used by a number of people. When oxycontin is taken like other narcotics, it can affect your breathing, and actually stop your breathing," said Russ Jensen, director of pharmacy at St. Mary's Hospital.

Statewide, 229 people died of narcotic overdoses in 2008.

Drug counselors say prescription drug abuse is a growing problem.

"We've told parents for years to lock up your liquor if you have teenagers in the home, but nobody ever tells them to lock up their prescriptions as well," said Skye Tikkanen, SAC, at Connections Counseling.

The State Council on Alcohol And Other Drug Abuse is holding a special session Friday, February 12th, 10am - 2:30pm, at Connections Counseling, 1334 Applegate Road, Madison.

They'll be discussing a proposed law which would make it okay to call 911 if you're with someone whose using drugs and needs medical help.  Right now, counselors say, people are afraid of being charged with drug possession themselves when a friend is in trouble.

 

Download Article PDF

Read more

WKOW-TV: Teen marijuana use on the rise

Article Date:

December 14, 2009

MADISON (WKOW) -- Recent surveys show marijuana is becoming more popular among U.S. teenagers, and some people believe the national debate over legalizing medical marijuana may be to blame.  It's known by many names -- marijuana, cannabis, pot -- and it appears teenagers are smoking more of it.

A study, released Monday by the University of Michigan, says marijuana use among 8th, 10th, 12th graders is up.

"Part of it is young people really minimize marijuana being an issue," said Shelly Dutch, director of Connections Counseling. "Part of it is looking at legalization in many states."

Researchers say it's the trend that's alarming. Marijuana use among teens had dropped every year of the past decade, only to bounce back up in 2008.  It doesn't matter if students are athletes or scholars, wealthy or poor. Counselors say everyone is a potential user and abuser.

Read more
1 8 9 10