PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE’S Empire of Pain describes Attorney General Maura Healey’s quest, not just for financial restitution from members of the Oxycontin-promoting Sackler family but also to expose their deep venality.
And exposed they were. Yet imagine Healy’s frustration as the members of the Sackler family cut their losses and kept an ungodly portion of their gains.
Out of jail, and rich. This close, yet out of reach.
Similar frustration haunts the law enforcement approach to addiction. Over $1.5 trillion in tax funds, mostly spent on posturing and punishment, has yielded endless street level and white collar whack-a-mole; villains this close, yet beyond the reach of even attorneys general who command both the police and media attention.
The endless futility of this approach is well documented, as is the persistence of overdoses on streets and in public bathrooms.
But also well documented, and gratefully experienced, is the more sensible, non-punitive approach to addiction, exemplified by the more than 100 supervised consumption sites around the globe, where people consume the toughest drugs under supportive supervision from peers and professionals. Confirmed by scores of peer-reviewed evaluations, these sites yield less death, disease, crime, and addiction for both people who use drugs and for their communities.
Somerville has begun the process of public hearings on launching a supervised consumption site with the full support of Mayor Joseph Curtatone. At the State House, Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro and Reps. Dylan Fernandes of Falmouth and Marjorie Decker of Cambridge are sponsoring bills “to prevent overdose deaths and increase access to treatment.”
There is truly no downside, though there has been pushback from timid politicians who grant the effectiveness of this intervention but hide behind the threat of prosecution under hysterical Drug War statutes. Their hands, they claim, are tied.
Gov. Charlie Baker and others have always hidden behind the fear of federal prosecution, even though post-Trump there is sufficient prosecutorial discretion to allay those fears.
Such cowardice is excruciating for advocates who know that despite being in the medical capital of the world, this simple, proven intervention remains out of reach for those who need it. Of course, nothing haunts like the agony of Laura Levis slowly dying right outside the locked emergency entrance to the Cambridge Health Alliance Somerville Hospital. Yet when we witness (and walk past) people using unsafe methods and materials on the street, a similarly unnecessary tragedy plays out before our eyes. On our watch.
This echoes the frustration Healey must have felt when confronting the Sacklers.
Yet while Healey lacks the power to bring major drug dealers to their knees, in this case she can call the shots by calling off her shot – making it clear that she will not prosecute supervised consumption sites; making it clear that the state will join the city to defend this approach; making it extremely unlikely that the US Attorney’s office would attack this coalition.
Though not as headline grabbing as the pursuit of universally reviled villains, this one act of prosecutorial discretion will save more lives than having the Sacklers admit wrongdoing.
With one stroke of a press release, Healey can help defang one of the few remaining obstacles to the life-saving medical intervention known as supervised consumption sites.
Not a moral, best-deal-we-could get victory, but a real, life-affirming difference.
She is that powerful.
We are this close.
Bill Fried, Dr. Miriam Harris, and James Stewart are members of SIFMA-Now! — an organization of medical professionals and others who promote life-saving supervised consumption sites throughout the Commonwealth.