PERRY: No mistake about it, making felons out of drug users ruins lives, it doesn’t save them


The obvious disconnect between those who make or enforce our laws and reality is no greater than when it comes to drugs and drug abuse. 

That fact is made clear by the recent reaction to yet another horrendous account of people being killed by overdosing or taking what amounts to poison when they were expecting illicit pleasure.

While so many things are unknown in the shocking fentanyl death of five people in Commerce City this week, I can almost guarantee that if lawmakers had elevated to felony status possession of the toxic drug that killed them, it wouldn’t have made any difference.

While I join a lot of people in Colorado welcoming the sudden enthusiasm of a bevy of state lawmakers, enforcers and pundits in addressing the scourge of illicit drug use and abuse, like many who’ve been in the trenches on this — victims, perps, medical providers or, like me, having a front-row seat to the show — this is not a new problem.

Nor is it an easy dilemma to deal with. Drug and alcohol abuse have haunted people, pretty much since there were people. In the United States, from Prohibition, through “just say no,” to the endless war on drugs, the conflict rages but the battles have mostly all been lost.

Few human maladies encompass so many demographics and parts of society as do drugs and alcohol: poor, old, educated, elite, conservative, business, religion — nearly everyone and everything.

The sudden interest in the disaster of the atomic-bomb-drug fentanyl, in all its forms, sprang from a shocking disaster this week.

Three women and two men, ages 24 to 32, were found dead Sunday. Another woman was found alive, along with an infant.

A preliminary investigation made it appear the people in the apartment were snorting cocaine, which was laced with enough fentanyl to kill all but one of them.

They were duped. They thought there was no danger in what’s clearly a dangerous form of entertainment, or they thought the worst just wouldn’t happen to them. Hundreds in Colorado die each year thinking the same things.

Bootleg fentanyl, imported primarily from clandestine labs in Mexico, often laced with other street drugs or used in imposter pharmaceuticals, has become a major health crisis in Colorado and across the nation.

Fentanyl and another synthetic opioid, carfentanil, are so powerful that minuscule amounts can be deadly, and too often are. Trying to compare this to other known drugs and find arbitrary amounts to satisfy felony requirements is as much a crap shoot as using street drugs in hopes nothing bad happens.

Last summer, The Sentinel reported that Colorado fentanyl deaths doubled in 2020 from the previous year, and then rocketed past that last year, which saw 720 overdose deaths from the lethal drug, according to state health officials.

These are only part of the mushrooming number of overdose deaths in Colorado. In 2020, 1,457 people died of drug overdoses in the state, but fentanyl killed more people in Colorado in 2020 than heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine combined.

Despite predictable partisan histrionics this week, this is not just a Colorado problem. Republicans wrongly blamed Democrats for the tragedy. It’s not a partisan problem. It’s not a simple problem.

For years, some of the most horrific overdose rates in the country have been in so-called “red” states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, places where overdose deaths, primarily from opioids, have rampaged for years. They keep getting worse all the time, despite “tough on crime” laws and drug laws.

Millions of lives and billions of dollars have been destroyed by America’s opioid scourge. The illicit fentanyl calamity is just the latest chapter in this mess. Aside from that, cocaine and crack, crystal meth, alcohol and even marijuana have stoked jails, courts, rehab centers and graveyards for generations.

Out of all of this, we still haven’t learned how to stop it, but we have learned how to make it worse.

Sending people to jail and prison for doing drugs has not, does not and will not make them stop. Every state in the nation has proved that for more than a century.

This is where the political disconnect becomes so dangerous.

Despite the most fervent and consistent hopes, lawmakers and prosecutors cannot escape reality.

Most people who choose to do drugs do not think they will get caught, killed, arrested, jailed or even inconvenienced by side effects.

Hundreds of millions of us are living proof of this undeniable truth. As someone who came of age in the ’70s and ’80s, I can tell you from experience, we partied hardy with impunity, and I partied with every age, race, income and background.

Did I know better? Oh hell, yes. But I never once thought anything worse than the lack of sleep or a hideous hangover was headed my way.

People who become addicted? They no longer choose to do drugs, and they don’t care if they get caught, sick, killed, arrested or jailed. They must find and use no matter what.

All kinds of people do astonishingly stupid things every day, thinking they will beat the odds of the wrath of consequences. I make a living out of writing about it.

And it’s not just drugs that I mine for fool’s gold. The dead-people business has been booming during the pandemic from those who disregarded unending calls to wear masks, avoid crowds and get vaccinated to keep from dying from COVID-19. But they thought it was all fiction or that they could beat the odds.

Overdoses, getting busted and COVID-19 only happen to other people.

Despite the clamoring from noisy Republicans — some who helped pass laws two years ago to quit sending drug addicts and dabblers to jail and prison — a “mistake” was not made, as reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

The bipartisan intent of making drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony was to keep from making felons out of drug users, forcing them into joblessness, homelessness and to become dependent on taxpayer-funded services for the rest of their lives.

The target of the government and criminal justice system needs to be drug providers, especially those on or near the top of the criminal food chain.

If you want heroin, cocaine, fentanyl or meth tonight, all you have to do is join a few local chat rooms and you can get just about anything you want, and for not a whole lot of money. 

Lots of drug sellers even deliver, making drug use as easy as having dinner brought to your door. While many addicts support their meth, heroin or cocaine habit by selling, it’s the “wholesalers” and the factories that are driving the drug trade, pretty much unimpeded.

They’re the ones flooding the area with deadly faux pharmaceuticals and street drugs laced with a fake-fentanyl so potent that even inhaling the dust can become deadly.

Those are the felons, the murderers and the creeps that warrant the reaction political capitalists should take up legal or any arms against.

But clogging courts with foolish people caught being foolish and making them felons won’t save any lives. It will only add calamity to a budding or serious drug problem.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]


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11 months ago

Decades of the same old addiction story. It never ends. And seeing that it never ends, then may all the drug users die young and happy in the warmth of their last fix…hopefully before bringing a child into this world…or before needing an organ transplant…or before committing violent acts…or before wasting the time of the police and courts and social services.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
11 months ago
Reply to  BlueBird

It’s true we haven’t solved anything, but that is no excuse for this attitude.

Don Black
Don Black
11 months ago

The author is correct that the people who are addicted will continue no matter what. He is incorrect in thinking that law enforcement has spent much focus on making felons out of little people who simply make a mistake and possess drugs. Has it happened in some places? Yes. Most of those poor felons he wants to excuse are the ones dealing and making a profit off of the misery of others. It is doubtful that we will see an end to the drug problem. Law enforcement has known that this was coming for more than ten years. The cartels recognized that producing fentanyl from the chemicals that they got from China was far easier and cheaper that cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. The profits are huge. Opening our border has meant that enough fentanyl has come in to kill the entire population of the US. Long term the cartels may have hurt their market. Now, the recreational users, like the author, have to fear sudden death with all the drugs. While enforcing drug laws won’t stop some people, it will stop many people who have some personal accountability and want a decent life. Unlike what liberals think, we can’t protect everyone from their own stupidity. You are responsible for your own life. If you make poor decisions, there are consequences. To make people think that you will protect them from their decision to use drugs is a recipe for wide scale drug use and the destruction of many young lives who would not have otherwise used. The recent sympathy for those people who died in Commerce City is misplaced. This is the time make it clear to your kids that those people were responsible for their own lives and they make a fatal mistake. This is the time to explain to your kids that the one pill they get from their friends may kill them immediately. It isn’t like smoking. It isn’t a matter of maybe it will kill you in 40 years. This is a case of one poor judgment may kill you immediately. That has to be made clear. I see that the liberals want to give out test kits for fentanyl so people can continue to use their drugs. The liberals want to make it easier for you to use drugs with no consequence. I didn’t use drugs because I feared the consequences and what would happen to my life and career. Taking away all those fears for responsible people means you are inviting your children to jump into that world. Quit whining about those who can’t handle their own lives. Start talking about responsibility for your own life.

On a related note, let me relate a short story about where we are. A former law enforcement student who is now a police officer related this to me. She stopped a shop lifter who gave her the finger and then ran. She physically took him down and got him handcuffed. He had two knives, sixty fentanyl pills and a large wad of cash. I realize that the liberals think that people who shoplift are simply down on their luck and trying to get food. Liberals also don’t think force is justified to enforce any of our laws except the most serious. So, this minor crime found a guy who is violent and is selling deadly pills. That is how law enforcement works. It is enforcement of minor crimes that identifies people involved in more serious crimes or people who are wanted. However, her supervisor told her that she should have simply let the shoplifter go. He realizes that there is no support for law enforcement and that it is not worth the risk to enforce our laws. Our legislature and the media have created this environment with knee jerk reactions to the George Floyd death. Law enforcement condemned Officer Chauvin’s actions from the start. There was no need for the hysterical wholesale destruction of law enforcement. There are many things that need to be fixed in law enforcement. You should understand that the training is completely inadequate. You should also see from what has happened in crowd control locally, that the political chiefs in charge are often incapable of making good plans or of controlling their own officers. Law enforcement officers do not have free speech. If you were to ask, you would find that much of law enforcement has no faith in their leaders. With some effort to open up the system to input from officers, we could fix most of the problems. The vast majority of officers want the right things.

The other thing that you should understand is that the high ideals the liberals had when they decided to reimagine police work have resulted in just the opposite. Law enforcement is now scrambling to hire people who will have less training and experience than the thousands who have left. They aren’t going to all be college educated and minority officers who are sensitive to the public. They won’t know how to do real police work and they will be paralyzed by the new police reform bill. Real community policing cannot exist in the present environment. Since the liberals have no idea what they have broken, it may take years to fix what they have broken. It may never be fixed. You the public will be the losers. Your kids will be the losers in the new approaches to drugs.

Jeff Ryan
Jeff Ryan
11 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

You have an extremely warped view of “liberals”.

I am a liberal, and I was also a prosecutor for many years. I had no problem enforcing the law.

The worst behavior I ever saw from cops were in connection with drug cases. When they took the oath at trial, it’s a wonder they weren’t struck dead on the spot.

I do feel very badly about these people who died in Commerce City. Addiction is not supposed to be a capital offense. But this isn’t the doing of “liberals’. If you got rid of every “liberal”, people would still do dope. Other people would still sell it. The opioid epidemic that plagued the country didn’t affect many “liberals”‘, but it did kill a lot of rural, white, MAGA-voting people. And how did those people become junkies in the first place? Liberals had nothing to do with it. Greedy drug makers did it through rewarding doctors who wrote lots of scrips for their product.

Law enforcement won’t solve this until the manufacturers stop breaking the law and cops stop lying, daily, in courts around the country.

Don Black
Don Black
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Ryan

While I will agree with you that some cops have perjured themselves to convict drug suspects, I also understand that that goes back to a lack of ethical leadership at the top. I don’t believe that the five people were all addicted persons. You make choices. You live or die with those choices. If you want to risk your life to have fun, then it is your problem. My complaint about liberals is their complete lack of common sense when it comes to human nature. Idealism is good as long as you don’t feel you have to force your own naive ideas on everyone else. The public and the legislature have gone along with horrendously bad law dressed up as fine ideals. If you were a prosecutor, maybe you should read the police reform bill in detail and see if it is not entirely vague about use of force. By the way, I am not a MAGA guy.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
11 months ago

Our justice system is not geared for this. We have neither the space nor the money to handle it as a “crime.”