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Marijuana Use and Disorders Double

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Marijuana use has doubled in the last decade, and with that has come a doubling in the use disorders associated with it, according to a recent medical study by a Columbia University epidemiologist published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry and in Medscape Medical News.

Dr. Deborah Hasin reported that the attitude of increasing numbers of the population is that the drug is a harmless natural substance. Because of that shift in perception, the prevalence rates of use have increased from 4.1% in 2001 to 9.5% in 2014. This increase was greatest among women (2.6% to 6.9%), African Americans (4.7% to 12.7%), Hispanic Americans (3.3% to 8.4%), and older people (.04% to 1.3%). Lower income groups showed the greatest increase.

The study’s findings were based on two nationally representative, face-to-face interview surveys of US adults aged 18 years and older: the 2001 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, and the 2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

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The prevalence rates of marijuana use disorders among the general population nearly doubled from 1.5% to 2.9%. Among marijuana users, however, that figure declined from 35.6% to 30.6%. The difference lies in the increased number of users in the general population as more states legalize its use in one way or another and more people consider its use as having no risks. Currently 23 states authorize use for medical purposes and 4 for recreational use.

If the number of states legalizing use continues to rise, the authors of the study advise that we should be prepared for greater numbers of addiction, vehicle crashes, emergency room visits, psychiatric symptoms, poor quality of life, cognitive decline, and use of other drugs, according to other published medical studies.

The Continuing Rapid Rise of Seizures and Overdose Fatalities Involving Fentanyl

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) issued an alert this week about the continuing rapid rise of seizures and overdose fatalities involving fentanyl. As reported in this column last June, fentanyl is a fast-acting opioid , 50-100 times stronger than morphine, that is now being used by sellers to mix with heroin in order to increase the “high.” The problem is that the substance is so much more potent that users often do not know of this increase and have a greater risk of suffering a fatal overdose.

The danger posed by this development has risen dramatically in the last three years, and the increase in 2014 was at epidemic levels. DEA has responded with ramping up enforcement activity. Seizures have gone from 618 in 2012, 949 in 2013, to a staggering 4,585 in 2014. These seizures are concentrated in ten states, with Ohio having the highest number of seizures (1,245), followed by Massachusetts (630), and Pennsylvania (419).

Most of this rise has been from illegal manufacturing operations rather than diversion of pharmaceutically produced drugs, according to a report by the DEA Office of Diversion Control. The alert was reported in this week’s Medscape Medical News.

The CDC asked law enforcement to participate in expanded surveillance and record-keeping programs, along with medical examiners and emergency rooms, to report these seizures to local public health departments. It also warned law enforcement officers to take special safety precautions to avoid exposure to the drug either through skin contact or by inadvertently inhaling it.

A Look at Some Upcoming Supreme Court Cases of Note

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Supreme Court Justices have a busy November with, among their other duties, six days of Oral Argument, including five cases of interest to criminal justice folks on both sides of the aisle.

US Supreme Court

Death Penalty Jury Selection:   No Court calendar would be complete without a contentious death penalty case. Foster v. Chatman involves the issue of whether Georgia courts bungled in failing to recognize and remedy a racially discriminatory jury selection.

In Batson v. Kentucky (1986) the Supreme Court held that equal protection is denied to an African American defendant if members of his race are purposefully excluded from the jury. That includes the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges. Once the defendant makes a prima facie (on the first appearance) case of discrimination, the prosecution must prove that the challenges had a neutral, non-racial basis.

In this case the defendant, an 18 year old African American man with an IQ measured to be between 58 and 80, was charged with killing an elderly white woman. The prosecution challenged all four of the black prospective jurors but presented numerous neutral explanations for having done so.

In the habeas corpus proceeding decades after the defendant’s conviction and sentence to death, the defendant obtained the prosecutor’s jury selection notes. These marked the names of the black jurors with a “B,” highlighted their names, and ranked them against each other in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors.” The notes were contradictory as to neutral bases for challenges and listed all of the black jurors as ”Definite NOs,” along with a single white juror.

The Georgia courts during direct appeal and habeas proceedings blithely rejected the defendant’s arguments and accepted the prosecutor’s assertions, despite the clear plan evidenced in the notes.

Prediction—reversal by a 7-2 vote. Affirming this conviction would confirm the opinion of many that Batson challenges are meaningless as long as the trial prosecutor has disingenuously prepared neutral explanations which have been found acceptable in previous cases and as long as trial judges lack the courage to challenge the prosecutor’s veracity in the face of such questionable circumstances. The case does a disservice to all of the honest prosecutors who seek a fair and impartial jury regardless of race.

Substitute Assets in Forfeiture Actions  — Luis v. United States pits the government’s statutory authority to use substitute assets to satisfy a forfeiture conviction against a criminal defendant’s right to use non-criminal but forfeitable assets to retain counsel of choice.

The defendants were charged in a massive Medicare kickback scheme in south Florida. At a pretrial hearing the government presented probable cause that the defendant had so dissipated his assets on luxury purchases that a preliminary injunction restraining even non-traceable assets was justified since their seizure, on conviction, would be necessary as substitute assets to satisfy a forfeiture verdict. The defendant argued that those non-criminal assets were needed to pay the attorney chosen to defend him in the case. The trial court restrained the assets.

In the Kaley case last term the Court upheld the restraint of criminally tainted assets, the only ones sought for forfeiture in the case, but did not rule on the restraint of legitimate assets. In the oral argument in the case there was some ambiguous indication that the Solicitor General arguing the case for the government, along with three of the Justices, assumed that such an injunction would pose constitutional problems. The context of the discussion, however, may well have been limited to cases in which only criminally traceable assets were sought for forfeiture.

In weighing the policy issues of the case, the question is whether a defendant should be able to use forfeitable (but legitimate) assets to pay his attorney even though the interests of forfeiture will be defeated by doing so. If so, there will be little disincentive to keep wealthy defendants from hiding and spending criminal proceeds to avoid government seizure. Defendants will essentially be authorized to use forfeitable assets to pay legal fees.

Prediction—Affirmed 6-3 in favor of the government’s injunction restraining forfeitable assets.

Prisoner Litigation Fees:  In Bruce v. Sanders the Court will resolve a split in the Circuits on an interpretation of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The purpose of that statute was to stem the flood of frivolous prisoner cases by requiring them to pay filing fees if they are able to do so. If they cannot pay the fee at the filing, the statute provides a formula for assessing installments from the prisoner’s trust account, with two limitations. No “exaction” from the account is permissible if it has a balance of $10 or less, and if the prisoner has no balance the filing is still permitted without assessment of cost.

The statute provides an exaction formula of 20% of the prisoner’s monthly income toward the payment of the filing fees, to be forwarded by the prison to the court where the case is filed. The provision, however, fails to make clear how this process is to be administered when the prisoner files multiple cases—does he have to pay 20% for each case (5 Circuits say “yes”) or is the 20% capped regardless of the number of cases (3 Circuits) ?

In the per-case interpretation, when a prisoner has 5 or more cases pending, the warden will exact his entire monthly income (minus the $10 minimum balance) until all fees are satisfied. In the per-defendant interpretation the warden will continue to exact the account until all fees are satisfied. For some prisoners, such as the plaintiff in this case who has over 100 cases filed, this process can consume the entire period of the sentence.

The Circuit split revolves around the construction of the statutory language. The subsection which precedes the formula requirement appears to be reasonably clear as referring to a per-defendant approach, but the subsection in question is ambiguous.

The case has attracted attention on both sides of the issue. Amici curiae briefs have been filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as by 20 states. Regardless of the result, the resolution will be welcome news for the Bureau of Prisons, which presently has to figure out the diverging views of the Circuits in administering the program.

Prediction—5-4 in favor of the per-case interpretation, meaning that prisoners who file multiple cases will pay the price in having less to spend on sundries.

Sexual Exploitation of Children Statutory Sentence Enhancement:  The case of Lockhart v. United States involves yet another split in the Circuits over statutory interpretation. The issue involves the mandatory minimum enhancement for possession of child pornography convictions. This enhancement is triggered by a prior conviction under state law relating to “aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.”

The disagreement is whether the latter phrase “involving a minor or ward” applies to all three of the categories of predicate offenses or just the third one involving abusive sexual conduct. If it applies only to the last category, prior sexual abuse convictions involving adults would qualify, thus enhancing the sentences of a broader scope of defendants.

The defendant is one of those affected since his prior conviction was the attempted rape of his 53 year old girlfriend. He pled guilty to possessing child pornography but argued that his sentence should not be bumped up to the 10 year mandatory minimum since the enhancement statute requires that all three categories of predicate offenses involve minors.

The trial court rejected this interpretation, following 4 circuits which have ruled that the phrase “involving minors” modifies only the third category of predicates. Two circuits have held to the contrary, that all predicates must involve minors.

The battle revolves around a contest between the “last antecedent rule” (modifying only the phrase it immediately follows) versus the “series qualifier rule” (modifying all of the terms in a series). The statutory history and context seem to support the former, broader approach.

Prediction—Affirm the broader interpretation of predicate offenses as applying to all categories of prior sex abuse convictions, by a slim majority.

Immigration Act Predicate Offenses: The issue in Torres v. Lynch involves yet another Circuit split over the statutory interpretation of a state predicate offense, this one in the context of what constitutes an aggravated felony under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Such a prior conviction subjects the alien to removal from the country without the benefit of eligibility for “cancellation,” i.e., discretionary relief from removal.

One of the categories of aggravated felonies includes those “described in” certain federal statutes, such as in this case, arson. The petitioner’s argument is that state arson convictions do not qualify since they do not, as federal arson convictions, include an element of affecting interstate commerce. The 3rd Circuit has adopted this position; 4 others have included analogous state offenses as predicate aggravated felonies without the interstate commerce requirement.

Prediction—Affirm following the majority of Circuits which have found logic and legislative history to support giving the Bureau of Immigration Affairs some deference in interpreting the statute to support the purpose of facilitating removal of aliens with prior aggravated felonies.

So be prepared for a lot of arcane statutory construction arguments, bread and butter for lawyers, but one of the reasons good fathers urge their children to do something socially useful like bull-riding or being a PR consultant for venal pharmaceutical companies, rather than going to law school.

 

Supreme Court to Decide Three Thorny Capital Cases

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin its 2015-2016 term with oral arguments in October on three tough cases on capital punishment from the minority of states which still maintain a de facto death penalty.

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In Kansas v. Carr, Gleason, the issues presented involve the trial judge’s instruction to the jury and the question of joinder and severance for two defendants during the sentencing proceeding. Carr and Gleason were brothers who were convicted of a series of brutal rapes and murders during a crime spree in Wichita, Kansas in 2000. There was little doubt as to the result of the guilt phase of the trial.

During the death penalty hearing the judge denied the defendants’ request for severance of their cases. The defendants’ case of mitigation was in the words of the Kansas Supreme Court, “so weak it would not pull the skin off of rice pudding.” Although the evidence was not openly antagonistic between the two defendants, the appellate court later speculated that some of the evidence may not have been admitted against both defendants if there had been separate proceedings. The jury’s verdict was death.

The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the convictions but reversed the sentences as a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The joint proceeding deprived the defendants of an individualized sentence determination. The court went on to hold that the trial judge should have instructed the jury that the defendant need not prove mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the judge had instructed that each juror should assess and weigh the mitigating circumstances.

Predicting the Court’s decisions in the emotion-packed morass of death penalty cases is never easy but not as difficult as divining the rationales of each Justice to support her/his vote. Separating the ultimate result from the nuance of the legal issue without distorting the evolution of the case law in non-capital cases has been a tortured exercise for decades. The defendants point to little concrete harm that resulted from the joinder, but this seems the better issue for them. The instruction issue seems less persuasive.

Hurst v Florida

The following week, October 13th, the Court will hear the case of Hurst v. Florida on whether its previous case of Ring v. Arizona should be extended to void the Florida practice of making the jury’s sentence verdict as only advisory to the trial judge, who makes the decision on a penalty of death, as well as issues on how the jury goes about deciding the advisory verdict.

Timothy Lee Hurst was convicted of the brutal murder of a co-worker in a Popeye’s Fried Chicken restaurant in Escambia County Florida in 1998. The psychologists testified that Hurst’s IQ was between 69 and 78 and therefore not ineligible for the death penalty as being “retarded.”

The jury’s advisory verdict to the trial judge did not identify which “aggravators” they found or whether a majority agreed on a single theory. They voted 7-5 to recommend death. This procedure leaves open the possibility that less than a majority agreed on a single aggravating circumstance, which would justify the jury’s recommendation. The trial judge conducted his own hearing on the issue and ultimately sentenced Hurst to death.

The Supreme Court in Ring held that whether the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt the necessary aggravating circumstance warranting a death verdict is an issue of fact finding for the jury to determine. It did not spell out whether that decision had to be binding on the sentencing judge or how the jury was to go about the process. The case left some knotty issues: whether the jury’s role could be in the form of an advisory opinion to the trial judge; whether individual jurors could use different theories of aggravation; and whether the vote of a majority of the jury was a constitutionally adequate verdict.

Florida death penalty litigation has been a fertile ground for death penalty opponents. The state may want to allow Texas to devise the statutory system since Texas has been so much more efficient and successful at imposing and upholding its death verdicts and administering the fatal drug combination.

It is hard to believe that the Supreme Court will uphold a system in which all three of the potential issues left over from Ring have coalesced. Justice Breyer has already made clear his own views that only juries can decide to impose a death verdict. Both he and Justice Ginsburg have called for the Court to accept a case on the issue of the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

Montgomery v Louisiana 

The third capital sentencing case for October, Montgomery v. Louisiana, did not ultimately result in a death penalty but life without parole imposed on a juvenile. Henry Montgomery was a 17 year old African American 11th grader with an IQ in the 70s who shot and killed a white Sheriff Deputy in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1963. With crosses burning in the neighborhoods and the KKK actively promoting racial tension, Montgomery was convicted and sentenced to death without any opportunity to present mitigating circumstances during a sentencing proceeding.

The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed, he was re-tried, convicted and automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Montgomery is now 69 years old and has been in prison for 52 years.

In 2012 the Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama held that sentences of mandatory life without parole for defendants under the age of 18 violated the 8th Amendment. But the Court has never decided whether Miller should be applied retroactively.

Retroactivity in criminal procedure cases is determined by a 1989 Supreme Court case called Teague v. Lane, whose rule requires the finding either that the decision involves a new substantive rule of criminal constitutional procedure or, if procedural rather than substantive, whether the case implicates fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.

These are slippery concepts and there are those who think that the Justices first decide the end result of the case from a policy perspective and then apply the Teague rule accordingly. The equities of the Montgomery case weigh on both sides of the balance. A law enforcement officer was killed, but a half century has passed since the defendant killed him. For my money, once you decide to make the sentence unavailable for minors (whether you agree with this policy or not), to make it not applicable to cases after 50 plus years seems fundamentally unfair.

Three cases with thorny legal issues to be decided under the rule of law as part of a larger agonizing debate about whether we should have two systems of punishment in this country, one by the vast majority of states which have concluded for various principled and practical reasons to abolish the death penalty, and the other in a handful of states which have concluded that the ultimate penalty of death is necessary for their system of criminal justice. Anomalies will always exist in a federal system but few seem so profoundly perplexing.

The Role of Doctors in the Heroin

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By Ross Parker

With the recent volume of media on the issue of the heroin epidemic, its overdoses and deaths, has come an effort to provide an easy explanation for the cause of and solution to this multifaceted problem. Much of the blame has been directed at doctors, who are charged with being either intentionally or negligently pill-happy with painkiller prescriptions. Their failures, it is charged, have made medical patients into addicts and, when the scrips became unavailable or too expensive, the patients were forced to turn to heroin and other opiates on the streets.

The tragic death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman who went from painkiller to heroin addiction and then to an overdose death is presented as a prime example for this explanation for the increase.

But the reasons for the current heroin upsurge are far more complex than the responsibility of a single group. Factors such as a failure of individual responsibility, insufficient education for kids, inadequate drug treatment resources, the emergence of Mexico as the dangerous big dog in shipping heroin up north, inadequate regulation and, yes, law enforcement, as well as a dozen other reasons contribute to the pandemic.

But doctors and their regulators do play an important role in this analysis and any feasible solution. It is not merely a coincidence that the country is in the midst of both a painkiller and a heroin overdose epidemic. The relationship between the two provide part of the cause.

The number of painkillers prescribed has quadrupled in recent years. Every day 44 people in the U.S. die from an overdose of painkillers. The number of deaths has skyrocketed from 4,000 to 16,000 annually. Experts from the health and law enforcement fields point to prescription drug abuse as a major cause of the epidemic. But they usually fail to add that 70% of these overdoses were by individuals other than the patient who obtained the prescription. Their access was from patients, many of whom legitimately needed the prescription, or from the street traffickers.

Which is not to say that medical profession doesn’t need to get its house in order.  Reforms need to be made even if doctors are not the only or even the primary culprit for the contagion.  It is true that a substantial percentage of physicians fail to find out about a patient’s history with controlled substances or their obtaining multiple scrips, even though this information is readily available. Plus many doctors lack the training and experience to identify opioid abusers and what alternative pain relief regimens could substitute for these drugs for patients at risk.

The February 2015 New England Journal of Medicine bemoans the absence of the use of proven medication treatment strategies both by physicians and drug treatment centers. The lack of insurance coverage, physician training, policy hindrances, and adequate resources are only part of the explanation for this failure.

Researchers of a study presented recently in the Clinical Journal of Pain found that many primary care doctors lacked an adequate knowledge base about opioid treatment and failed to appreciate the danger of diversion to non-patients. These two deficiencies often made the doctors prescribe them more often than necessary.

One part of the formula to battle this rampant epidemic is to work with doctors to strengthen the net that is supposed to limit painkillers to patients for whom there are no effective alternatives. Physicians have to receive training to be able to use an evidence-based pain management program and to be able to identify the dangers of misuse and overdoses. Checking up on drug-seeking patients should be mandatory and, if where it is not required, it should be the choice of every physician before a controlled substance is prescribed.

As was detailed in last week’s column, doctors should have the testicular tissue and foresight to make Naloxone available to family members, friends and first responders so that an addict in the throes of an overdose can get to the emergency room before his or her breathing shuts down.

[Two updates on that column: Kudos to the Macomb County Michigan Sheriffs’ Department who saved an overdosing person’s life last week because a month earlier they had the good sense to give every deputy Naloxone to use when confronted with an overdose. Second, thanks to the reader who posed the question, why isn’t Naloxone over the counter so it is readily available to first responders to provide a supply of this life-saving and harmless drug? Indeed, a good question.]

States have an important and related role in these reforms. As mentioned last week, every state should implement a mandatory Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. So far, although progress has been made in this endeavor, most states still make it voluntary by doctors and, as a result, well less than half utilize this database that tracks prescriptions and dispensing of controlled substances. In states which have recently made the program mandatory, results have been dramatic. In the last two years New York has had a 75% decline in patients seeking multiple scrips. Oregon and Tennessee have both had an immediate drop in overdoses.

There are many other fronts to this perplexing and complex battle to save lives, not the least of which is more study on why a half million people, especially young people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, are risking their lives every day for this momentary high even though they create a nightmare for their families.

One thing is clear, we need to stop stigmatizing addicts and looking for an easy fix. Only a broad based solution involving many disciplines and more resources will get the nation through this scourge.

Naloxone and the Surge of Fentanyl-Heroin Overdose Deaths

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By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

A young woman from Michigan we will call Janice started using heroin in her early 20s. Her family stuck by her and financed several rounds of rehabilitation. Each of these was followed after a short period of time by a relapse and her family or friends rushing Janice to a hospital emergency room when she overdosed. Each time the ER docs were able to stop the overdose and stabilize her.

Then one night Janice shot up with what she thought was heroin but which had such an immediate effect that she went into respiratory arrest with the syringe still in her hand. The people she was with called 911 but could do little else. By the time she got medical help, it was too late and she died during the EMT transport.

Last week this column focused on the deadly effects that fentanyl-heroin combinations were having on opiate addicts in Canada and the United States. Since fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, dealers are lacing low quality heroin with it to boost the effect without revealing this to their customers. Plus fentanyl is accessible and not expensive. Much of the fentanyl is obtained through prescription drug abuse from patients who are supposed to use the drug to combat serious pain, for example from cancer. The result has been deadly.

There is a drug that could save hundreds of lives of overdosing users. Its use in scattered projects and medical facilities around the country demonstrates that it is safe, effective and easy to administer. The problem is a lack of public education, resources and facilities with access to the life saving drug.

Naloxone Making a Difference

Naloxone blocks opioid receptor sites in the CNS, especially those in the brainstem which affect respiratory effort. It does not cure an overdose. What it does is enable the overdosing person to breathe for long enough to get her/him to medical facilities where their breathing can be secured more permanently. With the latest generation of fentanyl-heroin overdoses, this extra half hour or hour can mean the difference between life and death.

In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, writer Bridget Kuehn described a project where the Naloxone is making a significant difference. Northwest North Carolina had the third highest death rate for opiate overdoses in the country. Project Lazarus has cut the death rate essentially in half by a program of providing access to Naloxone treatment kits and training on how to administer it to laypersons who are likely to be the first to observe the overdose.

Read more »

Fentanyl-Heroin Overdose Deaths Surge

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By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Three months ago the mother of an Ypsilanti Township man found her young son slumped over in his bed, dead, with a syringe still in his hand. He was one of the latest victims of the deadly combination of heroin laced with the prescription drug fentanyl.

Zachary Burdette is charged in U.S. District Court in Detroit with causing this death and two others resulting from a growing epidemic of combining heroin with this pharmaceutical drug.

Earlier this year Dennis Sica was convicted in New York with the same crime, again resulting in three deaths. He named the deadly heroin-fentanyl combination “Breaking Bad.”

Outside of law enforcement and medical circles, fentanyl is a little known synthetic opiate, the most potent one available for medical treatment. The rise in the use of heroin, especially by younger and more affluent buyers, has made fentanyl a particularly useful cutting agent to increase the potency of low quality heroin, and occasionally cocaine. Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. The deadly problem is that it achieves this purpose only too well, and the result has dramatically increased overdose deaths in the last two years.

Fentanyl is often sold on the street without identifying it, as for example a “fake Oxy” pill or “hybrid smack.” It also has a dozen analogues manufactured in clandestine labs often referred to as “China White.”

In March 2015 DEA issued a nationwide alert on this danger through the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). The National Forensic Laboratory Information Service reports that the number of lab submissions containing fentanyl increased from 942 in 2013 to 3,344 in 2015. Those numbers are continuing to rise this year.

During the first five months of 2015 there were more than sixty deaths attributed to this combination in southeastern Michigan. California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania report similar numbers. Overdose deaths involving fentanyl in Canada have surged the last year. Deaths from using fentanyl are twice as prevalent in Ontario as heroin deaths and account for one-fourth of the overdose deaths in British Columbia, up from just five per cent in 2012.

The other aspect that makes the drug so desirable to dealers is its accessibility through prescription drug abuse. Fentanyl has been used by doctors since the 1960s as a particularly effective anesthetic and pain reliever. Its rapid onset character is an effective pain reliever for cancer patients. It is prescribed in several forms, including transdermal patches, oral tablets, nasal sprays and lozenges on a stick (referred to as “lollipops”).

A study in the journal Pain found that one-tenth of the users of prescription painkillers end up addicted to them, and one-fourth of the prescribed drugs end up being misused or diverted out of accepted medical use. Some law enforcement officers consider fentanyl to be the new Oxycontin. It’s cheaper, easier to get access to with the recent restrictions on Oxy, and it produces more of the high that becomes so addictive for opiate users.

Dealers can readily use these forms to combine with heroin either for injection, smoking, or snorting. But fentanyl itself cannot be so easily diluted because it has a very quick absorption rate. Even in small quantities of a single dose, it can have a variety of dangerous side effects, including hallucinations, aphasia, and respiratory depression. Under the watchful eye of a physician, the drug can be a life saver. Uncontrolled on the street, it can be a life taker.

The other danger message sent by DEA about fentanyl is that it poses a special risk for law enforcement officers because it absorbs so readily. Exposure to the drug, for example in the execution of a search warrant or undercover, either by inhaling it or by skin contact can be perilous if the officer has an allergy to opiates.

Deadly, accessible, and on the rise, fentanyl poses the latest crisis for law enforcement.

 

Happy Birthday, Magna Carta

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com
Eight hundred years ago today, a group of rebellious English barons met with despotic King John at Runnymede near the Thames River and agreed to a peace treaty , the Magna Carta. Negotiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the charter was meant to settle an aristocratic uprising over the unpopular king’s tax levies. It lasted two months before it was annulled.

The fact that the Magna Carta failed in its initial purpose has not dimmed its eight century luster as an iconic symbol of freedom and the rule of law. Proponents of measures to assure the rights of individuals over the arbitrary authority of the governments have long relied on the document’s mythic status in Anglo American history.

For most of those eight centuries the Magna Carta has stood for the right of free men to a fair and free trial. What women got out of the charter was the right to inherit as widows and to not be compelled to re-marry against their wishes. All in all, not an insignificant step toward gender equality.

However, during the same centuries historians have questioned the authenticity and significance of the document as a basis for all the principles it has come to stand for. Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell referred to it as the “Magna Farta,” a tag that would be considered almost sacrilegious to the constitutionalists in Britain and the United States who reverently consider the document to be the very foundation of our individual liberties.

Nevertheless it remains fashionable to poke holes in the document as having been distorted in order to achieve the ends of centuries of legal reform. They point out that technically the overwhelming majority of its Latin clauses have been repealed, refined, and replaced by subsequent legislation. But these protests are largely ignored by the real world.

Perhaps no groups have relied on the Magna Carta more assiduously than the American colonists and, later, revolutionaries and Constitution drafters. To them the document was the common law basis of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, and trial by jury.

Perhaps its most far reaching provision is the one that promises: “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Moreover, whether by myth or historical reality, the document has come to mean much more than its words and original purpose.

Chief Justice Roberts recently quoted the Magna Carta (“To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice.”) in support of the historical basis for the principle of judicial integrity. Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, 575 U.S. __ (2015) (upholding a Florida law which prohibited judges from personally soliciting campaign contributions).

In the long journey since the 13th Century, the rule of law has protected us from despotism on one side and anarchy on the other. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors, foot soldiers of the Constitution, can take pride in their important role in building our legal system, case by case, so that all individuals can enjoy fair adjudicative procedures and an equal application of the law. As is carved on the outside of the Justice Department building, “Where law ends, tyranny begins. Law alone can give us freedom.”

Whatever its historical anachronicity, the Magna Carta was a first step in the development of the rule of law, not rule of kings or even men, a process that continues today in every police department, federal law enforcement agency, prosecutor’s and U.S. Attorney’s Offices, in which charges and disputes are considered and resolved.

So if you are searching for a milestone to celebrate this week, you could do no better than to toast the enduring legacy of this ancient document.