Life In A Red State

How To Build A Drug Town: Step 1 — Target The User, Ignore The Trafficker

Company, from nearby county, offering heroin addiction treatment for Preble County residents.

“Boredom and a sense of uselessness and inadequacy—these are human failings that lead you to just want to withdraw. On heroin, you curl up in a corner and blank out the world. It’s an extremely seductive drug for dead-end towns, because it makes the world’s problems go away. Much more so than coke or meth, where you want to run around and do things—you get aggressive, razzed and jazzed.” — Judith Feinberg, West Virginia professor who studies drug addiction, as quoted in the The New Yorker.

In 2016, 18 Preble County residents died of accidental drug overdose. In 2017, there were 25.

One who did not die was a 40-year-old male who overdosed last Spring in a downtown Eaton, Ohio residence. When officers and paramedics arrived another male, presumably a fellow user, was administering CPR. In our local War on Drugs, the chemically-addicted have learned that CPR may be their best hope of survival — as they save each other from accidental death.

The victim was revived with Narcan, transported to a local hospital, and arrested for possession of a drug abuse instrument. The man’s next interaction with the police came two weeks later when, according to the police report, he was again arrested for possession of a drug abuse instrument. The incident began when an officer ‘on regular patrol of (same address where overdose occurred)’, noticed the man ‘skipping from under the carport into the alley and onto the roadway,’ at a ‘known drug house.’

This led to a pat-down, and the alleged discovery of a needle in the man’s pocket.

This individual would be arrested seven more times over eight months (nine arrests in nine months) — all for possession of a drug abuse instrument. Since the defendant’s address is listed as ‘at large’ he is presumably homeless.

And, now he owes ‘the system’ about $2,000.

Creating A Market

In today’s newspaper, a press release from the Preble County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office hints at the county’s role in the War on Drugs. Although, our role is a little overhyped in the release, the county played a part in a federal case that links a Mexican Drug Cartel to Middletown, Ohio. (You can read press release here). In the federal case, the Ohio State Highway Patrol Drug Interdiction team, which has been patrolling Interstate 70 inside Preble County for decades, arrested two of the indicted individuals.

A more realistic look at the traffickers we arrest can be seen in this story — where the traffickers feel more like drug users assisting other users.

Nonetheless, we definitely have a thriving drug culture inside Preble County. As I read and research newspaper clippings, police and court reports, I agree with the opinion of an individual associated with the Preble County court system, who recently said: We are in our third generation of drug abuse.

That, of course, begs the question: If we are three generations deep, why are we still arresting users, and not traffickers, and a follow-up question: Why are we not treating addiction like the mental health issue it is?

Ostracizing The User

One of the main reason we keep engaging in a decades-old approach is our iron-clad adherence to individualism. In a nutshell, this value system puts all the blame, and solutions, on the individual  — eradicating any complicity caused by systemic failure. In 2018, we know a lot more about drug addiction than we did in 1968 when Preble County first began dealing with illicit drugs. Yet, we have not significantly altered how we address this societal problem that played a role in economically gutting our community.

In a Ted Talk, Johann Hari explains what other country’s have done to successfully combat drug abuse — and one of the most successful concepts is embracing methods that help the chemically-addicted reestablish connections with their community.

Reestablishing the connection is a two-way street. The chemically-addicted have to do their work to stay clean, but the community has to do its work as well, which begins with recognizing drug addiction is a disease, and not a choice. In Preble County, we are not there yet, and it shows by the arrest records, the court records and the jail roster as we continue to criminalize a mental health issue. And, as we sink deeper into the abyss, we perpetuate the problem by dehumanizing the chemically-addicted. This makes it easier to engage in practices that offer short-term relief (jailing them) while creating long-term problems (creating a subculture that cannot be integrated into the community — road-blocking them from a productive life).

How It Has Shifted

Beginning in the mid-to-late 1970s, Preble County adopted the arrest the user approach to combat our growing drug problem. This became more pronounced as the drugs became more addictive. Part of this is, undoubtedly, an issue of pragmatism. It is infinitely easier to arrest a user than upend a business engaged in trafficking. It is significantly safer, too. By and large, when you read the arrest records of known users, there is no violence.

This approach has led to processing an escalating number of mental health care patients through the court system — which is not equipped to effectively resolve the problem (we have no drug court). Regardless which year you choose from 2009-2017, there is a disproportional number of user cases compared to trafficker cases. And, the ‘big traffickers’ that are caught in Preble County tend to be the ones passing through (like in the federal case mentioned above).

But, to examine a couple of years, here’s how the ratio plays out:

2009: Total cases – 207

  • Possession cases: 30
  • Trafficking cases (which includes manufacturing, trafficking, sale and cultivation cases): 21

2012: Total cases – 302

  • Possession cases: 62
  • Trafficking cases (which includes manufacturing, trafficking, sale and cultivation cases): 29

2015: Total cases – 215

  • Possession cases: 62
  • Trafficking cases (which includes manufacturing, trafficking, sale and cultivation cases): 20

2017: Total cases – 319

  • Possession cases: 146
  • Trafficking cases (which includes manufacturing, trafficking, sale and cultivation cases): 7

Records also indicate a significant rise in aggravated drug possession charges in the past couple of years.

There Is A Better Way

Not all communities are addressing the War on Drugs in the same manner. Police in a New England town of 16,000 have abandoned the user-arrest approach choosing instead to add a prevention, enforcement and treatment coordinator to their staff. The officer, a 20+ year veteran in the War on Drugs and former prison guard, came to the realization that the arrest them/jail them approach was not working. The New York Times reports on his transformation.

Those years spent guarding prisoners, and later kicking down doors, changed (Eric) Adams’s thinking. So many of the drug users he saw had made one bad decision and then became chained to it, Adams realized. Or they had begun on a valid prescription for pain medication, after an injury, and then grew addicted…. Arresting a person like this did no good, because there was always another to replace him or her — and regardless, any jail sentence had limits. Afterward, Adams saw, everyone landed right back where they started.

As Adams brainstormed ways to solve the dilemma, he realized there were three approaches to the drug problem: prevention, enforcement and treatment. He began seeing the chemically addicted beyond the lens of criminal to include their other identities  — as customers being targeted — and as victims needing treatment.

Now, when an individual overdoses in his New Hampshire town they can expect a much different approach. If the OD victim agrees to treatment, Adams will drive them to a rehab facility, and it does not end there. He keeps in touch with them — even if they relapse.

And, just as importantly, no accidental OD deaths have occurred since the program began.

Categories: 8th congressional district, How To Build A Drug Town, Life In A Red State, My America, Preble County

‘Evicted’ Describes What It’s Like To Be Poor, Vulnerable

As I recently posted, years ago I realized I live in a very impoverished county. Despite this reality, some local organizations are in denial. In a December, 2017 article, the Preble County Economic Development Director detailed job openings and business investments being funneled into the county painting a rosy picture of Preble County.

She said,

“There is no better marketing strategy than the demonstration of a successful and thriving business climate.”

According to the article, the County will gain about 200 jobs, but the cost for 109 of the positions was more than $500,000 in state tax breaks and another $135,000 in incentives from the cash-strapped City of Eaton. So, it’s a mixed bag at best, but regardless it’s about selling who we are and the Director does not shy away from that.

Later in the article, she says.

Preble County is the fifth largest ag county in the state and we pride ourselves in our strong workforce and strong work ethic. These traits make it easy to market Preble County.

Make The Bums Work

Despite the marketing spin, a help wanted sign has been on display for more than 90 days at one of the companies — suggesting a labor pool problem. The manufacturing firm needs less than 20 new workers. Freedom Caucus Members Warren Davidson and Jim Jordan (see below) are convinced the able-bodied people on welfare are causing the labor shortage in the United States, but there may be another reason we can’t fill the openings. Legislators may have unnecessarily created felons in their rush to feed the private prison industry. And as these nonviolent offenders return home, they meet their first barrier to reentering society — employers who refuse to hire them due to their felony conviction.

Today (Monday, Jan. 7), in Eaton (pop. 8,200) 125 cases are on tbe Eaton Municipal Court docket. Preble County Common Pleas has 24 items and the County Jail has filled 66 of its 70 beds.

On Sunday, Jan. 7 Congressman Warren Davidson re-upped the link to an op-ed co-written last summer with fellow Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan. The dynamic due is convinced if able-bodied persons on welfare were forced to work our labor shortage would be solved.

I tend to dismiss the validity of local public relation stories because if life is as good as they say it is, I would not see empty buildings or infrastructure in need of repair. I would not see a slow crawl to expand the local jail. Nor would I see the ‘are you addicted’ signs as outside groups swoop in to financially benefit from our drug problem. In a great place to live we would not accept the exploitation.

Hard Times In The ‘Greatest Country On Earth’

When I read Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, which deals with poverty in Milwaukee, I noticed some of the same denial in the comments of Milwaukee’s gatekeepers and leaders. In Evicted, Desmond follows the lives of eight families as they ‘struggle to keep a roof over their heads.’ This engaging book received the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2017.

From my perspective the work accomplishes three things.

An Inside View Of Impoverished Life

Although there are eight families, Desmond does an excellent job balancing their stories. As their stories unfold, you can ‘see’ inside their homes and apartments, some quite filthy, and some filled with the aroma of marijuana. But, you can also see their attempts to pull out of their situation, only to be struck down by an unexpected bill, poor decision, or a landlord who arbitrarily decides to evict them for a late payment while letting a neighbor, who was also late, stay. You feel the loss of hope and insecurity as Desmond describes the ‘good, bad and ugly’ of their lives and communities.

Legal System All Messed Up

What I also enjoyed about the book was its balance. This is not a ‘poor renter’ book painting the landlord as an evil villain. Desmond creates a realistic image of the landlords’ plight as well. Although he does report a landlord’s willingness to kick out tenants, he also details the expense landlords incur in the process — destroyed or damaged property, court fees and inspections that can cost thousands. The reader quickly learns, though, that some landlords are better humans than their peers. Desmond helps uninformed readers, like myself, get a feel for how clunky, intrusive and ineffective the legal system is when dealing with the landlord-tenant relationship.

Lots of People ‘Just Doing My Job’

Those who have never faced evicted are probably unaware of the process. With just a few scenes Desmond brings it to life. The movers, including companies that specialize in evictions, invade a tenant’s home after they have been legally served by armed police officers. The movers, depending on legalities and landlord — and sometimes tenant wishes — sort through the belongings. Some of the stuff is sold, some stored, and a lot is ‘set on the curb.’ In one family’s story, the tenant hauls all her stuff to a neighboring house trailer because she knows the tenant is in the hospital. As the evictions occur, Desmond sprinkles in enough of the various comments from tenants, movers, and officers to show just how jaded they’ve become.

Don’t Skip The Ending

In some books, I skip epilogue-type content telling myself it’s nonessential. With this book the ‘after story’ is just as interesting as the book. Desmond goes into detail about the field work and his effort to not interfere with the subjects. He tried to keep the events naturally unfolding by staying in the background. I would also advise reading Amazon reviews — some of them come from people very close to the story — including Milwaukee Joe — who is critical of at least one of Desmond’s landlord depictions. However, Milwaukee Joe still gives the book a 4 out of 5 rating which, in my opinion, speaks to the book’s strength.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. This subject could easily be a boring ‘just the facts’ story. It’s not. As a reader you become vested in the outcome. The book is also a strong indictment against how the United States treats its poor. For those interested in policies, Desmond also details techniques for improving tenant-landlord laws in the U.S.

The gas station I used as a teenager has been abandoned for years. The empty building greets visitors as they enter the City of Eaton from the east.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Books I have read, Life In A Red State, My America, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

What I Believe: Children Are Ruling The Playground And The Religious Right Is Wrong

Hiking at Ceasar Creek State Park during first snow of the season.

I believe it was Ben Franklin who said that most people die at 25 but aren’t buried until 75. I strive to make each year a time of growth, and I challenge my beliefs because truth can stand the scrutiny. Part of this process means that, for the past few years, I’ve reflected on what I know for sure. (Here are my thoughts on 2015 and 2016.)

As 2017 ends, here is what I believe:

1.) Children Are Running The Playground. I’ve seen this on the national level as the Orange Menace and Congress push a trickle-down economic plan. It didn’t work the first time around for Preble County — we enjoyed a 12 percent unemployment rate in its first year (1982). But I’ve grown tired of national politics and am more interested in the local children. The policies championed by local gatekeepers are failing — entrenching our poverty. In this crimson-red county, those who hold the purse strings, especially at the county level, have become less transparent and less willing to compromise for the good of our community. Emboldened, perhaps by 45*, these ineffective leaders need to face the scrutiny of a strong media presence and/or citizens so their behind-the-scenes actions can enjoy a little sunshine.

2.) The Drug Epidemic Is A Symptom Of Our Hopelessness. The drug epidemic claimed a family member’s life in November. He was my cousin, 32, a hard-working man employed in Montgomery County. He died of an apparent overdose, coincidentally, on the anniversary of my father’s death. His death is difficult to accept. It’s a painful reminder of our abysmal approach to drug use and abuse in southwest Ohio.

In Preble County those with addiction issues are often treated as sub-human. Our abandoned dogs receive more compassion than the chemically addicted. It is a top-down problem as the hypocrisy of our political leaders, especially those who have melded their fundamentalism with their political agenda, perpetuate long debunked myths about addiction. I have met my share of chemically-addicted individuals in the past five years and the most common thread, in the lives I see, is a disconnect with the community.

Many here believe it is the church’s place to ‘help these people find a cure.’ If churches believe that, the first thing they should do is befriend a chemically-addicted individual. The second thing they should do is be quiet. When they are silent they can hear, and in listening, they may learn where we failed our community members — as too many of the chemically addicted are victims of horrific events. Save their soul, if that’s important to you, but begin by saving their life. And, as compassionate people keep our neighbors alive, gatekeepers can work to bring livable wage jobs here to help us pull out of the epidemic. It would be infinitely more valuable to our community than planning the construction of (yet another) building at the fairgrounds.

3.) Justice Is Not Blind. If court records, police reports and the local jail roster have taught me anything in 2017, it’s that justice is not blind. It despises the poor and hates the chemically-addicted, but less so in December when the jail population falls by about 25-30 percent. Although it looks like a Christmas miracle, the reduction in inmates may be more closely linked to limited court openings during the holidays. (I wonder if that’s why reformers believe all defendants should request a trial.)

Versa reflects on the condition of her soul.

4.) The Religious Right Is Wrong. I was raised in a white, evangelical church so I have a thorough understanding of their interpretation of the Bible. I’m also aware of their obsession with the afterlife as they postpone a quality life here to ensure a spot in the Treehouse in the Sky — and just as importantly — avoid an apartment in the Eternal Lake of Fire. At my age, a warm fire doesn’t sound so bad, but if there is a Hell my biggest fear is my roommate. If Hell is meant to torture, I’m stuck with Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell Jr. — men who scream out in fear on a daily basis as they use their pulpits to decry gays, Democrats and Muslims (not necessarily in that order). If I had to listen to their impish drivel for an eternity — well, I think you get my point.

The Religious Right should sell bumper stickers that say: Believe like us — or go to Hell. But if they want a heavenly afterlife, they need to read — then live — Matthew 25. It’s not complicated.

5.) David Thoreau Was Correct. In many ways, it seems to me, Thoreau lived in a time similar to ours. There was a significant portion of the country entrenched in anti-intellectualism with a religious force ‘proving’ that the immoral institution of slavery was, somehow, ‘God’s will.’ As the political dysfunction of Thoreau’s era eventually led to the Civil War, Thoreau found peace in the woods doing his work. When 2017 began I attended a Unitarian church in Eldorado — one that, unlike the fundamentalist/evangelicals, exemplifies the inclusivity of Jesus.

In January, the minister spoke about ‘Now what’ and, referencing a scripture, she said we needed to plant our gardens, tend to our fields — or, in other words, do our work. Her message, and Thoreau’s approach of being in nature, became a practice for me. Although I was not able to attend the Unitarian church as much as planned, I hiked a lot of Ohio’s forests — finding peace and contentment despite the political mayhem created by a deplorable dotard.

Looking forward to 2018….

Categories: 8th congressional district, Age of Discontent, Life In A Red State, maga, My America, Ohio