"Decriminalization efforts have typically left out distribution and sales due to misleading tropes about 'dealers' being 'predatory and undeserving,' [Beletsky] said. This 'failure to look beyond simple possession' weakens reforms since 'law enforcement often compensates by recasting possession crimes as distribution,' a maneuver that Garza’s proposal would hinder. But Garza would continue prosecuting drug possession and sales above one gram. This ceiling means keeping law enforcement officers actively involved against drug use. 'History suggests that decriminalization based on specific weight has limited impact,' Beletsky said, pointing to a study of drug law reform in Mexico he co-authored. 'Piecemeal decriminalization is not in and of itself sufficient to change police practice and build alternative systems.'"
"...US authorities around the country have been reporting 'a surge in overdose deaths as part of the pandemic fallout, with fatality rates rising by 100% in some counties. By disrupting treatment and harm reduction services, triggering economic shocks and trauma, and severing social support networks, the pandemic is undermining any progress being made in overdose prevention. At the same time, people who use opioids and other drugs are especially vulnerable to coronavirus infections and severe disease because of health and structural stressors.'"
"In America, public authorities were increasingly turning to the criminal law to address the overdose crisis, treating overdose deaths as 'homicides,' and prosecuting friends, family members and acquaintances. In essence, these laws give prosecutors the power to prosecute people when drug overdoses occur, including those who sold or supplied drugs to the deceased. [Keynote speaker Leo Beletsky] argued that these prosecutions were flawed on numerous grounds, including because they undermine public health efforts to prevent drug overdoses. Moreover, Beletsky explained that a 'near majority' of these prosecutions involve a white 'victim' and a person of colour as 'dealer.' In this sense, Beletsky argued, the use of prosecutorial discretion continues to 'tell a racist tale.'"
"Critics say that departments with vague policies that leave the ultimate decision open to officer discretion are potentially problematic, as some officers seem to be ignoring these non-enforced recommendations and could contribute to viral spread. 'It not only shows total disregard for the individual health of the protesters, but it's also a huge mistake from an occupational safety standpoint,' said Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University. 'This is an illustration that police culture tends to think of officers as exceptional and above the rules.'"
"Regardless of the COVID-19 precautions protesters take, there is still a degree of unavoidable risk inherent in mass demonstrations. But staying home from protests against racism is also a risk, since the same structural racism that results in black men disproportionately dying at the hands of police officers fuels racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths, according to Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University. 'There’s broad recognition that racism is one of the top public health issues of our time,' Beletsky said. While health experts who criticize the protests because they could spark infections might be well-intentioned, 'they fail to grasp that racism is the underlying cause of both COVID-19 and police violence, as well as asthma, overdose and maternal mortality rates,' he added."
"At a press conference earlier this week, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said 'herd immunity' — the idea that people who’ve already had the virus won’t get it a second time—was 'starting to take effect' in his jails. He characterized this as a positive development. Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University, said Villanueva’s comment 'betrays a misunderstanding—or deliberate ignorance—about the concept of herd immunity.' In epidemiological terms, herd immunity starts to confer substantial benefit when approximately 90% of the population is infected,' he said, 'if such infection confers protection from future infection or significantly reduces its intensity. The bottom line is that simply letting this virus rip through L.A. County jails would result in the death of anywhere from 1 to 10% of the population, along with countless staff and L.A. County residents. This is the largest jail system in the world; you do the numbers.'”
"Health experts say complete reports are key to addressing COVID-19 disparities in communities of color. 'Thus far, the fragmented data we are getting from HHS, state, and local sources paint a very fragmented, but troubling picture. Systematic national data are necessary to understand the full scope of the issue and to target resources where they are most needed. Ultimately, these data will force some very difficult conversations about bungled responses so far, as well as about broader questions of race and racism in America. This is why agencies are dragging their feet on making these analyses available to lawmakers and the public.'"
"On May 4, the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, won a Pulitzer Prize for its December breaking news reporting on hundreds of last-minute commutations issued by Republican Governor Matt Bevin before his term in office ended. The Pulitzer Prize committee praised the paper for 'its rapid coverage of hundreds of last-minute pardons by Kentucky’s governor, showing how the process was marked by opacity, racial disparities and violations of legal norms.' But in a letter published Tuesday and addressed to the prize board, over two dozen legal and public health scholars, including one of the authors of this commentary, took issue with the board’s decision. The letter rightly lays out the dangers of rewarding criminal justice journalism that is flawed, sensationalistic, and damaging to future reform."
"'There's a lot of talk about getting back to normal after COVID-19, but there's a range of issues where getting back to normal isn't desirable,' Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University, told ABC News. For public health experts, challenges include a chronically ill populace, income disparities, and the effects of structural racism."
"Campaigns to get nonviolent drug offenders released during the pandemic may not be sufficient...prisoner re-entry into regular society is difficult and dangerous from a health perspective, even during normal times. As the economy collapses, shelters and food banks have been overwhelmed, with already limited resources stretched thin."
"Even in normal times, this would be an absurd amount of government resources to deploy on something like that. Federal law enforcement likes to spread this narrative that they’re going after ‘kingpins’ and are focused on ‘dismantling’ international drug trafficking organizations, but if you drill down and look at what they are doing, typically they’re arresting and prosecuting people who are very low down on the supply chain.”
The case illustrates how the armed forces, like many law enforcement agencies, fails its men and women who suffer from drug addiction. “It’s a tragedy not only for him but for West Point and society at large. Here is this person who had clear potential and who we had collectively invested in. Had he been given the right kind of support, he could have stabilized and found a way to continue doing what he was doing. Instead, we kind of just discarded him.”
"It’s the impulse to do something to combat the opioid crisis that has fueled the recent increase in drug-induced homicide prosecutions nationwide. 'The crisis is an opportunity for [law enforcement officials] to kind of increase their footprint and increase their funding and increase their influence. All of those things play into this pattern of high-visibility actions, whether it’s drug interdiction, or whether its drug-induced homicide prosecutions.'”
"Brent Eaton, an Indiana county attorney, is prosecuting people who have survived overdoses by using the administration of naloxone (Narcan), the opioid overdose reversal medication, as probable cause for the collection of further evidence needed to charge the survivor with felony drug possession. Leo Beletsky, a Northeastern University professor working at the intersection of public health and criminal justice, considers the Hancock County prosecutor’s policy to be a de facto criminalization of naloxone."
"An Indiana county attorney and police chief are working together to prosecute people who have suffered overdoses with felonies—and to use lifesaving naloxone overdose reversals as evidence against them. Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton intends to charge overdose victims with felony drug possession by encouraging police officers in Greenfield, a city in Hancock County, to use the administration of naloxone (also known by the brand-name Narcan) as “probable cause” for search warrants in pursuing further evidence of drug possession, specifically an oral swab of the defendant."
“The push for lifesaving interventions like treatment and naloxone, the number of people getting on buprenorphine and methadone” — medications regarded as the “gold standard” for people with opioid addictions — “are far more likely to be at play here."
"...overdose-homicide prosecutions tend to sweep up minor offenders who are 'struggling with addiction and who purchase drugs on behalf of themselves and their peers.' [The lab] studied two hundred and sixty-three prosecutions that occurred between 2000 and 2016, and found that about half of the defendants were 'friends, family, or romantic partners' of the person who died."