Pubdate: Fri, 02 May 2014
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2014 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Note: Rarely prints LTEs from outside circulation area - requires 
'Letter to the Editor' in subject
Author: Susan Spencer


Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. sees a big problem 
with opiates and crime across the county.

"The problem is huge. It's really taxing resources," he said.

"We have a lot of cases where we see people who have graduated from 
prescription drugs of their own to buying prescription medicine on 
the streets, to stealing out of medicine cabinets, leading to a 
problem where they no longer can fund their addiction.

"An OxyContin pill is $1 a milligram. A 50-milligram pill is $50. 
They know they can't come up with enough money to feed the addiction.

"What they do is they switch over to heroin, which you can now get 
basically for $7 or $8 a bag. About the cost of a pack of cigarettes.

"We're seeing Percs crushed and smoked. Oxy smoked. And the heroin 
has snowballed. It's through the roof."

He continued: "We're seeing more heroin arrests -- possession with 
intent to distribute. We had a big sting not too long ago working 
with the Worcester police and state police. We got almost a kilo of 
heroin off the street and $75,000-$85,000 in cash. It's a lucrative 
market right now."

A spokeswoman for the Worcester Police Department confirmed that in 
the city alone, there were 741 heroin-related arrests in 2012 and 
2013. Worcester had 12 confirmed opiate overdose deaths in 2013, with 
several cases still pending from the medical examiner's office.

Mr. Early said that drugs and alcohol account for 80 percent to 90 
percent of the crimes the district attorney's office handles.

"People make bad decisions when they're using drugs," he said.

"For example, we might see 10 or 12 breaking-and-enterings in an 
area. It's usually two or three of the same people doing all of the 
breaks. And we get those people off the street -- magically the B&Es go away."

Drug-related crime is often compounded by the lack of witnesses 
willing to come forward to law enforcement, ramping up criminal activity.

"Here's the problem: So, you've got home invasions, you've got 
different crimes associated with people selling and dealing drugs. 
When they get robbed, who are they going to call? They're not calling 
the police, so then what do they do? They rely on their own strength, 
they get their own gun," Mr. Early said.

"There's a myth out there that the jail is full of low-level drug 
offenders, that the jail is full of people arrested for possession 
that went to jail. It's just not true. When people go to jail, 
they've been in the system a while."

Mr. Early said that his prosecutors are told to show compassion 
toward drug users and stay within the law. For many offenders, 
treatment is the preferred outcome.

He said, "Our biggest goal is to make sure they're not coming back here."

But he added, "If they're making a sale, we want them going to jail."

The traditional court system isn't always effective in handling drug 
users, Mr. Early said, drawing their cases out for months without 
addressing the drug abuse underlying the criminal charges.

He looked forward to drug court starting in Dudley District Court in 
mid-May to provide more intense supervision and swift resolution of drug cases.

"We've got to come up with more creative sentencing. He who ignores 
history tends to just live it over and over again. You've got to 
think a little bit differently when you've got more and more of an 
opiate problem than ever before," Mr. Early said.

He said families usually don't turn to bringing a drug user in to 
custody under Section 35, which often means a stay in prison, unless 
they're desperate.

"When they get to the point where it's a Section 35, it's kind of -- 
or should be -- rock bottom," he said.

"The court orders that a person should be held under Section 35 and 
get that treatment. But there is such a shortage of beds.

"If we're serious about beating the addiction, about ending the abuse 
of prescriptions meds and getting heroin off the street, you've got 
to get people in treatment."

Mr. Early said that practical measures like bringing unused 
prescription drugs to drop boxes, rather than keeping them in 
medicine cabinets where children can find them, or working with 
physicians to prescribe narcotics more stringently, would help reduce 
opiate abuse and related crime.

He also called for more prevention, starting with providing adequate 
support to pregnant women, to making sure kids stay in school. 
Education about avoiding risky behavior can help, too.

"Prevention is a big, big part of why I ran for the job," Mr. Early 
said. "We've designed programs to talk about alcohol and drugs, safe 
dating, texting and driving, domestic violence, bullying. Making kids 
aware. We're not going to get to all the kids, but if we get to 
enough of them, that's how you're eventually going to see the numbers 
go down in the jail."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom