Nowhere to HIDTA
The harm caused by the War On Drugs motivates me to throw myself into the gears of the machine.
Every year since 1999 the City of Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) has participated in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (HIDTA) that is run by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). I heard about this program while attending the Milwaukee City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force meetings and was watching for it to come before the Common Council this year with the intention of opposing it.
I got my chance when Alderman Robert Donovan, the Chairman of the Public Safety and Health Committee, gave me 5 minutes to address the Committee on June 7, 2018. I wrote a document which was submitted for the record and made a little speech. The Council File No. is 180151 and all the related documents including my communications regarding this issue are here.
The Council File was scheduled to come before the Finance and Personnel Committee on June 13, so I sent a letter to all of the Alders on the committee asking for their support and permission from the Chair to speak on this issue before them. I’ve been attending all of the City of Milwaukee Common Council Committee meetings that I can trying to learn what issues the City is facing and at the Zoning and Development Committee meeting, Alderman Stamper advised me to contact Alderwoman Lewis, the acting Chair of the Finance and Personnel Committee, directly, if I wanted to speak at their June 13 meeting. She graciously gave me another opportunity to make my case. The full video of the meeting is here and below is the portion of the meeting where this File No. was discussed. I submitted a new version of my presentation for the record (the bullet point version rather than the former, narrative style, version) and got 5 minutes to speak.
I was very disappointed at the discussions regarding this issue that took place in committee and hoped I could break the precedent of no public comments at full Common Council meetings. I sent a letter to all of the Alders asking for someone to step forward (“my” Alderman had recently resigned to take a position in the Mayor’s office) and sponsor me to address the Committee of the Whole at the June 20th Common Council meeting. It was not to be – Council President Ashanti Hamilton ruled against me.
Here is the 5-minute speech I would have given to the Committee of the Whole.
Good morning Alders.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you all regarding the adoption of File No. 180151 – the HIDTA grant. This is a Law Enforcement grant. It’s not funding Safe and Sound. It’s not funding Crime Stoppers. It’s not funding Community Prosecution Units. It’s not funding the programs that you really care about that directly benefit your constituents. Rather, it is funding Law Enforcement efforts to attack mid to high level suppliers of controlled substances.
Law Enforcement efforts to control the supply of these arbitrarily defined substances have never worked. And, as Alderman Donovan pointed out at the Public Safety and Health Committee meeting: “Drugs are worse – much worse”.
Regarding the opioid overdose epidemic, MPD’s HIDTA team has said that the City and County cannot arrest their way out of the problem. When asked by Alderman Murphy during the July 21, 2017 meeting of the Milwaukee City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force what they were doing to interdict the fentanyl, the HIDTA team described the problem but did not offer any interdiction strategy other than: “We go after them”. In fact, they informed the Task Force that fentanyl was readily available on the “dark web”. The synthetic opioid genie is out of the bottle!“I Feel the fentanyl issue is truly driving the epidemic we have right now, and the stats definitely prove that. If you look at it, if you go through year to year, it’s doubled, quadrupled, and I hate to say it, but if we could get back to the heroin status it would be success. But really that’s kind of where it’s at really when we’re talking about fentanyl.” Lieutenant Shaun Doyne, MPD Narcotics Division – HIDTA, December 1, 2017 CCHCO Task Force Meeting (beginning at 58:35). Alderman Murphy offered more resources and Alderwoman Lewis asked if HIDTA was fully staffed. In both cases, MPD’s HIDTA team did not take advantage of the offer and ask for more money/resources. That is an indication that they know that no amount of money/resources would be enough. They are content to continue playing the game with the team they have. Attempts by Law Enforcement to control substance have backfired leading to the introduction of fentanyl into the controlled substances market. According to the MPD’s HIDTA team, it’s a better high and consumers are asking for it despite the risks involved. Alderman Murphy explained how a $2,000 investment in fentanyl could yield $200,000. Fentanyl can be produced anywhere and shipped to/from anywhere. It’s in the heroin, cocaine and imitations of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills. What more explicit admission of failure could you have than Lieutenant Doyne’s comment: “if we could get back to the heroin status it would be success.” I have first-hand experience of the harm caused by HIDTA, specifically, it’s attempts to control cannabis. When my throat cancer came back for the third time last August, it was deemed inoperable and I was looking at radiation and chemotherapy. I spent 2 months exploring the option of moving to California, Oregon or Colorado to access medicinal cannabis, but I could not pull it off. By the time I began treatment in late November, the tumor at the base of my tongue had grown 5 times bigger. I was in severe pain and could barely talk or swallow. The radiation oncologist gave me a prescription for oxycodone and I started to take it. It didn’t work for me and I was leery about upping the dose. Moreover, I didn’t like the way it made me feel. I asked “what’s next” and was offered a fentanyl patch. Ibuprofen??? “We prefer opioids.” was the response. So, the relationship between programs like HIDTA, that target cannabis, and the opioid epidemic is very clear to me. Has MPD’s HIDTA Program team taken any action to address the admissions made in their presence by Ms. Kathy Federico, 28-year DEA veteran and currently Diversion Control Supervisor, at the July 21, 2017 meeting of the Milwaukee City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine (CCHOC) Task Force?
“...And you did talk about some of the administrative proceedings that we can take against our physicians that are over prescribing and not prescribing in a legitimate manner, that puts oxycodone and hydrocodone on the street. And we do have a lot of those.
And I mean the other issue we have is, is having ahh—prosecutions —of physicians that are pumping pills on the street without people having legitimate medical problems. And that’s an issue we address all the time because nobody wants to put a doctor behind —in jail.
…You talk about the PDMP and having this big impact. The PDMP has been out there for a long time and we had some impact initially when it started. I don’t know exactly what issue you want me to address but some of the PDMP issues, is, yes, it’s very true that the doctors is going to have to check, it’s going to be mandatory, but there are no consequences if the doctors do not check. And we have a lot of the doctor that are not looking at the PDMP...”
According to the DEA’s Criminal Cases Against Doctors website, there were only 2 cases in the last 4 years reported in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Act 266 strengthened the PDMP (Prescription Drug Monitoring Program) and, even prior to that update, the legislation had provided “consequences” for physicians by permitting the Controlled Substances Board (CSB) to make referrals based on its evaluation of the practitioner’s actions. The DEA can refer cases of physicians that are illegally prescribing, or not using the PDMP, to the CSB and create consequences.
The HIDTA program is the height of Drug War Hypocrisy. They claim to be going after the big suppliers while turning a blind eye to “their” physicians that are illegally prescribing and “pumping pills” on the street.
Per the Government Accountability Office 2017 report, the ONDCP and its flagship program HIDTA are failing to meet all of the goals set for it by the Obama administration in 2010.
HIDTA’s Annual Reports to Congress are deceptive using projections rather than actual results. Metrics used like Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) dismantled or disrupted are akin to Vietnam War era “body counts” and have a similar relationship to “success”. The Return on Investment: Assets (ROI) and Return on Investment: Drugs (ROD) are cynical and meaningless measures of the actual “success” of the program and rather serve merely to justify its perpetuation from a cost to government perspective.
I’m asking you now to reject this File. Do not accept the “award”, which commits the City to another $2,000,000 to support HIDTA. It is a failed program — part of a failed drug war strategy — and it is only causing more harm.
Postscript: Was it just a coincidence that MPD HIDTA announced a major bust on June 18, just two days before the Common Council's scheduled vote on the resolution to fund HIDTA?