CENTRE COUNTY – District Attorney Bernie Cantorna Makes a Rare Statement to the Press on the Opioid Epidemic

After the nightmare of Former Centre County Stacy Parks Miller destroying reputations and tainting juries in public media statements to the press. She was notorious for these statements, and they were defamatory. In fact, one time she had been sued for releasing false information in a press release about a DUI Defendant who was later exonerated, because the drugs he was on were legally prescribed and not impairing.

Like Gricar, Cantorna’s office avoids the press. And it’s not because Cantorna does not like the media, though he has plenty reason to despise them, given their coverage of him. No, the reason Cantorna avoids the press and avoids commenting publicly on pending cases is because he follows the rules of ethics. He believes in an American’s right to fair jury trial, and he is not out for shameless self promotion.

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So when I read the Centre Daily Times article today with Bernie Cantorna actually commenting in the press, I was surprised at first glance. But publicly he even stated, as a preface to his commentary: Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said he doesn’t typically comment on a pending case, but felt it was important to share his perspective on the case surrounding the death of a Penn State student because it offers a window to analyze the opioid crisis. CITATION

I got the message immediately. It was a message I had been preaching and posting about for years. It was about this impending opioid epidemic that Governor Tom Wolf recently declared as a State wide Emergency. We are in a crisis, and we have been in a crisis.

“Every time someone buys and uses heroin, they are literally playing Russian roulette with their life,” Cantorna said. “They do not know if that dose is going to be laced with something that is going to kill them.”  CITATION

Cantorna, who promised during his campaign to put an emphasis on juveniles, and averting them from the criminal system before they got caught up in it and turned into adults, was likely heartbroken by this news. He has two daughters himself. Cantorna, who I have met personally, is a bleeding heart. He isn’t out for blood, and he hates senseless violent crimes, and senseless deaths.

The opioid problem was not enough of a priority under the Parks-Miller administration. There was no drug court. The drug court became operational when Bernie entered office. It allows people to avoid jail, and provides them with public services to address addiction. Because people with addiction don’t have a choice, it’s definately not that simple.

The FDA declared addiction as a “disease” many years ago. It’s like having diabetes. It’s highly treatable, and people can recover with the right medical treatment.

“It really is remarkably inexpensive. In the ’70s that was not the case. Today, it is remarkably inexpensive, so therefore it’s easy to buy these drugs and use them and become addicted,” Cantorna said. “There is a real risk of death in using heroin. It’s not just addiction.”

“The reality is that this crisis and the risk of the crisis affects everybody from the age of 14 to fill in the blank,” Cantorna said. “There is no one who is immune to the potential risks of this.”

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In private practice, Cantorna represented the families of dead victims who died as a result of medical malpractice, or personal injury negligence. While his temperament is pretty even keeled, logical, and steady, senseless tragedy by avoidable mistakes get him roiled up.

“The city of Philadelphia has been hurt more than any other city in the nation by the scourge of opioids,” Krasner said. “The time for us to act was yesterday, and it is now.”  CITATION

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who is by far one of the most lauded DA’s in the state also has a policy of not discussing pending cases. Unlike his predecessor former Philly DA Seth Williams (now an inmate), when Krasner is asked about pending cases, his response is always the same “no comment.” There is one exception to this rule, and that is the case of Meek Mills, who is the poster child for a failed justice system preying on minor youths, from impoverished neighborhoods and who are statistically likely to be minorities. Krasner’s comment on that case was that he would have no problem with Meek Mill being released, because the case was jacked up from the beginning, the probationary period was to long, and Judge Genece Brinkley was corrupt.

Krasner commented on the actions of a judge and his predecessor. Mill, a non violent drug offender, was an impoverished kid from the inner city when he was charged. He wasn’t rich and famous. He was another cog in the wheel, Another victim of the justice system.

Krasner isn’t about jailing non-violent drug offenders or addicts, he is doing what he can to save lives. Cantorna is experiencing the same crisis on a smaller scale, and there is only so much a lawyer can do about the opioid crisis. At some point in time, the medical community needs to step up and take a leadership role.

Krasner isn’t stupid, he knows addicts are going to use drugs. It’s a disease. This is why he did advocate for “safe injection sites” and “diversionary programs.” If a drug addict is going to use drugs, then not much is going to stop them. Providing safe injection sites for heroin was controversial in Philadelphia. The benefit of these sites are many fold. First of all, the needles are clean. Second of all, there is onsight medical staff who can administer narcan or prevent further deaths.

During his campaign, Krasner emphasized diversion programs for nonviolent drug offenders and advocated “using discretion to avoid unduly harsh sentences,” decrying Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ praise for mandatory minimum sentencing, which fell out of favor during the Obama years. He’s also supported safe injection sites, which Lappen called “safe suicide sites” at Thursday’s news conference.

Earlier this week, Krasner dropped charges in more than 50 marijuana possession cases. He said that about 90 percent of such cases already end in citations rather than arrest, but that his office will drop charges in the 10 percent that do result in arrest. He said studies have shown that opioid overdose deaths have decreased in states that have legalized marijuana.

“There’s a direct relation between reducing opioids and opiate deaths and making marijuana available,” he said.

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Cantorna has also decreased the penalties for marijuana users. Unlike Stacy Parks Miller, it’s not charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. Now being caught with marijuana (under an eighth) is a summary offense. It’s the equivalent to a traffic ticket. People like Krasner and Cantorna who have the bigger picture are not worried about pot heads, because Pot is not a game of “russian roullette.”

Weed doesn’t kill anyone, and it’s impossible to overdose.

Krasner has also gone after big pharmaceutical companies, suing ten of them within the first few months in office. He is cracking down on doctors, a practice I only half agree with. Doctors may have been the cause of this opioid crisis, but they are also the solution, because no addict is going to recover without a good doctor. Doctors should be leading the fight against the opioid epidemic.

Here is another very interesting distinction that Larry Krasner, a former defense lawyer, has had the sophistication to make. Unlike Josh Shapiro who labels all people as “dealers” who sell drugs, Krasner is drawing a distinction.

Drug dealers who sell heroin and don’t have a physical addiction themselves are murderers. These are the high end drug dealers who don’t sell for 100 bucks here and there. These are the drug dealers importing heroin on a large scale in the hundreds of pounds at a time.

A drug dealer is kind of like a Wall Street stock broker. What they are doing is dirty, and they are doing it not because they love the job, but because they love the cash.

The difference between a dealer and an addict was once put to me simply by Sean McGraw. He said dealers are “business men.” Dealers are not sad addicts who sell or provide to their friends in order to support their own addictions. Dealers are people selling drugs on a large scale, making lots of money, and who aren’t in the throws of addiction hooking up their friends on a small town basis.

We cannot label addicts who share or provide drugs to other addicts as dealers, and there is a specific reason for this that people like Cantorna and Krasner are street smart enough to understand. If I sell you heroin after purchasing some for myself for my own use as an addict, that doesn’t make me a “dealer.” That makes me an addict who “hooked up” a “friend” that was also in the throws of addiction themselves.

If I sell you, and 50 other people heroin that I drug trafficked from New York City and make $10 or $20 grand in profit, I’m no longer a dealer, I’m a “business man.” I’m not selling heroin to support my own habit anymore, I’m selling heroin to make money. Just like big pharma, I’m about the bottomline of profit.

Josh Shapiro either doesn’t get this distinction, or he is so addicted to the media attention (and yes he comments all the time on pending cases), that he doesn’t care to make the distinction between dealers and addicts. He is applying these mandatory minimums on these very loose definitions of “dealers.” If you share heroin with your neighbor or cousin, and don’t profit off of it except to get a fix for your own addiction, then you are not a “dealer,” your an addict.

And there is nothing worse or more painful than being an addict. I’m not saying that dealers do not use the drugs they sell, I’m saying that dealers are doing it for a profit, with the moral deficiency or empathy to understand that while they are making thousands of dollars, they are also killing people.

And while I’m on this subject of dealer vs. addict, I have another thought. While we are incorrectly and loosely jailing and labeling addicts as “drug dealers,” for the most part the solution has been prison.

I’ve never done heroin myself, and would never touch it. I do know that it is a deadly drug, and I also know addiction is a disease, which is treatable by medical doctors. So while we are jailing these addicts labeled as “dealers”, why is there no access to treatment in jail?

Why are we arresting people for trying to smuggle in suboxone to inmates, when in actuality inmates should have access to medical treatment that prescribes suboxone? There should be doctors treating the disease, so when we release these inmates they don’t head out and overdose. Suboxone or any remedial drug that will help counter the misery of addiction should be freely prescribed in prisons so we can stop cycling addicts through jail. Let’s get these people off the drugs, so they come out of prison treated and on their feet and “rehabilitated.”

It’s ridiculous that suboxone, a drug prescribed by doctors to wean people off of heroin, isn’t being provided to inmates in jail due to actions directly related to their drug addiction.

For all addictions, there is a biological component. It’s not just a spiritual problem that can be fixed by counseling or jail, it’s a physiological addiction that requires medical intervention and monitoring. If suboxone is successful at making people quit heroin, then for heaven’s sake prescribe it to inmates.

Or we can just keep doing what we are doing and cycling these poor f#cks through jail till they eventually overdose and die.

So when Bernie Cantorna held his press conference today, it reminded me of O’Bama’s speech where he cried over a mass shooting. Cantorna was frustrated and feeling helpless over a problem he was witnessing first hand and could not fix. It was necessary information for the public to know.

He is stepping up. I hope he has the Krasner like sophistication to distinguish between profit driven dealers vs. addicts, and I believe he actually does. Further, I understand his frustration because these drug deaths are tragic and senseless and happening to people who could have otherwise lived long lives and found happiness.

But most of all, I hope that Cantorna involves the medical community. Because people like Stephen Pandolph, M.D. or these physicians who sit as directors in community sites have an ability not to “cure” addiction, but to give people a fighting chance by evening out their biology with medication. Because the fight against addiction, as mentioned, is partially biological. It’s a spiritual ailment with biological symptoms. Your brain chemistry is bad. Suboxone is horrible for you, but if it gets you off heroin you are ten times better off. Further, if you are prescribed a drug like suboxone, it increases your chances of kicking the habit.

What would be monumental is involving the medical community. We have tried for years to jail our way out of this problem, and it’s not working. There is a medical solution. Addiction is a medically treatable disease, and there is proof of this.

Physicians need to be sitting on drug courts, making medical decisions and giving input into the criminal process. A lawyer can assess a crime and the appropriate punishment, a physician can assess – and even alter – a medical state. Instead of suing these doctors, and jailing these doctors, and over regulating them, and scaring them, it would be far better for the legal community to get them on board. Because if we are going to kick this statewide emergency of an opioid crisis, we are going to need the medical help of doctors.

If you want to sue or jail someone, hit up the people who deal drugs for profit, or the big pharmaceutical companies who put us here in the first place.

As for Bernies rare appearances in the press, well that was was welcome. Because what he is talking about is a threat to this entire community and country. So I was surprised, suspicious, and then very pleased he went out and said what he did say today. What a difference it makes to an entire community to have a man with such integrity and softness and compassion in office.

Just like Philadelphia with Larry Krasner, Centre County got lucky here. Very lucky.

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