By Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel
President Barack Obama has recently appointed Gil Kerlikowske as Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. While Kerlikowske has some good ideas (USA Today, May 21, 2009), there are a few that I take issue with.
The new Director has identified the misuse of pharmaceuticals like oxycontin as one of his top priorities. National and local statistics indicate that the fastest growing drug problem in the country is prescription drug abuse. Focusing resources on prescription monitoring methods is appropriate.
Director Kerlikowske has also pointed out a discrepancy between crack and powder cocaine sentences. This disparity was a result of an all-out war on crack, and crack-fueled crimes in inner cities in the 1980’s. Drug usage patterns have evolved in the ensuing years, and this disparity in sentences is no longer justified and should be corrected.
Next, Director Kerlikowske advocates the diversion of funds from law enforcement and prisons to treatment and needle exchange programs for drug users. Kerlikowske argues that anti-drug efforts in this country should be led by public health officials and not law enforcement officials. Here, I disagree with the Director.
In my office, approximately one in five felonies is a drug possession or drug trafficking charge. Nevertheless, an estimated 85-90% of the felonies committed in Warren County are drug or alcohol-related. Many thefts are committed to get drug money. The majority of traffic-related deaths are drug or alcohol-related. And personal crimes such as child endangering and domestic violence are usually fueled by drugs or alcohol.
Many of those charged with possession receive treatment at the expense of the county. Last year, many drug felonies in Warren County received court-ordered and taxpayer-funded treatment, referred to in the Ohio Revised Code as “treatment in lieu of conviction.” Many of those charged with drug possession successfully complete needed treatment, and never re-offend. Others do re-offend.
Treatment, without punishment, is unfair to victims of drug-motivated crimes, such as that committed by Roxie Luff in a Warren County nursing home recently. Ms. Luff stole pain medication from elderly patients who suffered needlessly as a result of her drug addiction.
Further, treatment is ineffective to deal with dealers such as Nicholas Lozier, convicted of dealing cocaine and ecstasy in Warren County. Many drug dealers like Lozier are “businessmen,” who profit enormously from the addiction of others. Lozier is a criminal who was, and should be, punished by the criminal justice system.
Stanley Hall caused permanent brain damage to two-year old Marilyn while using drugs. It is not fair to Marilyn to simply treat her tormentor rather than to punish him.
Director Kerlikowske’s public health efforts to combat drugs will undoubtedly be effective with many drug users, but should not become an across-the-board approach to all drug crimes in the U.S. Many drug crimes should continue to be dealt with harshly. The people who are harmed by the selfish, destructive acts of drug users and drug dealers deserve nothing less.