By David M. Greenwald
Tucson, CA – Last week, Pima County Attorney Laura Conover co-wrote an article with Miriam Krinsky and Leo Beletsky that was republished in the Vanguard on addressing overdose deaths and when homicide charges should be filed.
She follows it up with a short piece in the Arizona Daily Star, noting “while overdose deaths are attracting national awareness, the crisis is also dire here in Arizona. Much is happening to address it.”
On the one hand, they “prosecute those who are on notice that their particular ‘product’ contains deadly levels of fentanyl and continue to sell and profit from it anyway.” She noted, “We have sought manslaughter charges in four such cases in the past 18 months.”
At the same time, she warned “four prosecutions is not a prevention plan.”
The critical point that she makes: “We know that trying to prosecute our way out of this latest drug crisis has long been a failed strategy.”
She delivered that message when she testified before the Arizona House Judiciary Committee this session on HB 2021, the so-called “fentanyl bill,” “which actually proposed murder charges for any ‘transfer’ (not sale) for any narcotic (not just fentanyl) that contributed even partially to a death.”
She told the legislature that as “written, HB 2021 would be the greatest expansion of the War on Drugs ever contemplated by Arizona.”
The extent of the problem in Pima County, as elsewhere, is tragic. She noted that they have been seeing record numbers of opioid deaths.
“The illness is visible on the streets of our communities, and businesses and neighborhoods are feeling the effects of the problem,” she writes. “In the lead-up to COVID, Pima County had an average of 26 overdose deaths each month. Since March of 2022, that number has risen to nearly 40 deaths per month.”
But importantly, she warns, “We cannot incarcerate our way out of illness.”
She added, “It didn’t work with crack or cocaine. It failed with heroin. No better with meth. Jail does not cure illness. We must get to the root of the problem and focus on prevention and treatment to reverse the trend.”
She noted, “At the Legislature, my arguments failed on the day I testified. The bill passed out of the committee. But in the longer term, my argument won. We continued to educate, support waned, and the bill eventually died.”
Conover pointed out that she wants to focus on preventative measures rather than punishment.
“We are pro-health, not pro-punishment. We are smart on treatment and done with the War on Drugs. And, we are looking forward, not backward,” she said.