Part news and part commentary by Karl Dickey:
OMAHA, Neb. ––Three Dubuque, Iowa, businessmen have been sentenced for their part in distributing heroin and fentanyl that killed a Dubuque, Iowa, man in 2016. Meanwhile, FDA approved opioid drugs prescribed by doctors kill an average of 15,000 each year.
The notion that one drug is legal and another is illegal remains nearly equal to “legal deaths” as illegal opioids kill an average of 13,000 each year. Yet we send some individuals away for 20 years in prison while we leave others that are “dealing” drugs to continue in their profession. Society would be better off legalizing all opioid drugs, thereby eliminating the tremendous costs associated with law enforcement and incarceration of these individuals. We can then utilize that money to help educate and rehabilitate abusers of the drugs.
For example, in New York City, the cost to house, feed, and guard prisoners is just shy of $168,000 per year. That, in itself, would pay for quite a bit of rehab and drug education programs — effective drug education programs more sophisticated than “Just Say No.” Now, NYC may be an extreme example of costs, but even California’s state prison system costs $75,560 per prisoner.
In the federal prison system, drug offenses account for 46.2% of the prison population. Substantially more than any other category including rape, burglary, fraud, and theft (you know, crimes with actual victims). And the prisoners held in state prisons and local jails amount to well in excess of 50% of those incarcerated populations.
We often hear from well-meaning people that we have those drugs illegal because they are a scourge on our society. But how are they are more a scourge on society than those hooked on legal drugs? People still steal from others in order to get their high no matter if they received their opioids from a doctor, a businessman, or a friend. Americans are still getting high either way, so why the double standard? And sincerely, what has the War on Drugs accomplished since it truly started in 1971? We have better drugs widely available at lower costs (adjusted for inflation) so by nearly every definition the drug war has been a complete failure; however, many Americans and politicians continue to support its ill effects.
And what happens when drugs are made legal once again? Contrary to fear mongers who predicted the worst, in the states where marijuana was made legal crime has actually gone down. Unfortunately, we do not have any reliable data from when heroin was legal in the U.S. but we do have reliable data from other countries that have. Portugal is one country that is highly cited. Portugal decriminalized (not legalized) heroin in 2001 and their overdose deaths plummeted as did their drug-related HIV contractions. Portugal and other countries are looking at drug addiction from a health perspective rather than a criminal perspective and they are healthier for it both physically and financially for the taxpayers.
Derrick Jermain Brown, 26, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment following his February 21, 2017, guilty plea to conspiring to distribute heroin and fentanyl within 1,000 feet of a playground and public elementary school. The co-defendant, Antwain Deshaun Spratt, 39, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment following his December 2016 guilty plea to distributing heroin within 1,000 feet of a playground and a public elementary school and his February 2017 guilty plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The third co-defendant, Tywone Derrel Matthews, 41, was sentenced to just under 6 years’ imprisonment after the court found him guilty on January 31, 2017 of distributing heroin near a playground and a public elementary school, distributing heroin and fentanyl near a playground and a public elementary school, and possessing with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl near a playground and a public elementary school.
Chief United States District Court Judge Leonard T. Strand sentenced Brown, Spratt, and Matthews in Cedar Rapids, and all three men are currently being held in the custody of the United States Marshal Service until they can be transferred to the custody of the United States Bureau of Prisons.
In addition to Brown, Spratt, and Matthews, four other co-defendants in this investigation were previously sentenced for their involvement in this drug distribution ring. D’Anthony Lamont Moore was sentenced to 75 months’ imprisonment following his guilty plea to three counts of distributing heroin near a school and playground. Jeffery Donta Hitchcock was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment following his guilty pleas to distributing heroin near a college and playground. Antoine Tavares Mitchell was sentenced to 13 months’ imprisonment following his guilty plea to conspiring to distribute heroin. Antrell Desharron Lewis was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for distributing heroin near a school and playground. Lewis was also subsequently convicted of distributing and conspiring to distribute heroin and furanyl fentanyl resulting in death and serious bodily injury. He is awaiting sentencing on those charges.