Debate Forum: 3/22/16

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Oh, dad!

Father helps daughter buy heroin, gets misdemeanor
By Sarah Sidlow

Parents will do whatever it takes for their children. So what happens when a dad goes beyond the law to help his daughter? For Jerry D. Roberts, it starts with a weekend in jail.

Roberts, from New Lebanon, drove his daughter, Keri Brown, 28, to Dayton, so she could buy heroin. Both were arrested after a Dayton police officer received a drug complaint about their blue Ford Explorer. Roberts told police his daughter is a heroin addict who was “becoming ill from the withdrawal,” according to the police report. So, he drove her to Dayton’s North Gettysburg Avenue to buy heroin. When police approached the vehicle, Brown allegedly ducked down, attempting to hide a syringe. She later told police she also swallowed two gel capsules of heroin to conceal them.

Brown was booked into the Montgomery County Jail. Her charges: drug possession, possession of drug abuse instruments and tampering with evidence.

Her dad picked up some charges as well, including suspicion of permitting drug abuse (a misdemeanor).

To some, this may seem like yet another instance of heroin addiction playing a leading role in the unraveling of a family. But there are some who may view this story differently, especially when it comes to the arrest of father Roberts.

Was he just a dad trying to help his daughter?

Opioid addiction withdrawal, like Keri Brown was allegedly experiencing, is incredibly painful. The symptoms include insomnia, diarrhea, cold flashes, nausea and vomiting, bone pain and muscle spasms. In fact, withdrawal is so beyond unpleasant, it’s the reason habitual users stay on heroin. Continued use of the drug allows users to “stay well”—basically self-medicating against withdrawal effects. Roberts’ supporters argue he should not be punished with a misdemeanor for simply doing what he could to ease his daughter’s agony.

In fact, when a heroin addict enters treatment, they will likely be treated with an opioid agonist like methadone, which mimics heroin’s effect and can help reduce these painful symptoms.

The argument is also similar to that of parents who do whatever it takes to treat their children who are experiencing seizure-related illnesses with marijuana—legally, or otherwise.

Roberts’ sympathizers also point to the sometimes-corrupt world of Child Protective Services (CPS), which has accrued a twisted reputation for doing anything but protecting children. Why is it permissible, they ask, for CPS to take a child away from a parent who let him walk a block to the park, but illegal for a father to attempt to take away his daughter’s pain?

But on the other side of this complicated argument is, well, the law. Buying heroin is illegal, any which way you cut it. And, opponents of Roberts say, the law is the law. Just like a mother who illegally buys marijuana for her son, no matter the intentions, will be cited, Roberts deserves the misdemeanor suspicion of permitting drug abuse charge, if not, some argue, a whole lot more.

Reach DCP freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com

A show of compassion

by Tim Walker
com-passion (n.) sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

In the world of human beings, as it is in the animal kingdom, a parent’s primary duty in life is to protect their young from all harm. Parents—and I am one myself—understand this on a fundamental level. One tries to be eternally vigilant against all forms of danger and everything, it seems, can be a threat to the well-being of your children. When they’re young: illnesses, crossing the street, riding the school bus, walking through a parking lot, playing ball near a stream. As they grow older: car accidents, job difficulties, bad relationships, alcohol, drugs.

Jerry D. Roberts of New Lebanon, Ohio is 52 years old, and his daughter Keri Brown is 28. Roberts understands what it’s like to try and protect a child from danger because Keri, he recently told police, is a heroin addict.

On Friday, March 4, 2016, Jerry and his daughter were arrested in Dayton near the intersection of Melwood Avenue and West Third Street. Local police officers had responded to a drug complaint about the two, who were sitting in Roberts’ blue Ford truck. Brown was booked on a number of drug-related charges and released, while Roberts, her father, was sent to the Montgomery County jail, facing a misdemeanor charge of suspicion of permitting drug abuse. Roberts, no stranger to the criminal justice system himself, explained to police that he had driven his daughter to Dayton from New Lebanon so she could buy heroin because she was addicted and “becoming ill from the withdrawal.”

Opioid withdrawal can be exceedingly painful, with symptoms ranging from severe cramping and diarrhea to muscles aches, nausea and vomiting. Withdrawal symptoms are so severe that addicts are usually required to undergo a medically supervised detoxification period before they are accepted for in-patient treatment into a rehab facility. So should Jerry Roberts be found guilty of committing a criminal offense for his behavior in trying to help his daughter avoid the pain of withdrawal? Or is he simply guilty of another, much more common “crime”—loving his child as much as he can and trying to protect her from harm, even though his actions this time ran afoul of the law?

Parents of drug addicts often find themselves in the difficult position of having to choose between adopting a “tough love” attitude and enabling their children to continue their self-destructive lifestyle as an addict. As a 2014 Psychology Today article dispensing advice to parents of adult addicts stated, “Offer assistance and support only to the degree that you are financially able and that will move your child towards a better life. Don’t give money that you know will take them further down the road of bad behavior. Some people suggest that parental funding be tied to a child’s good faith efforts to improve their situation. However, if you feel guilty for not giving your child money for food, because you are fearful it would only be spent for illegal drugs, buy her a bag of groceries instead of giving her cash.”

Too often, the parents of adult addicts wind up jeopardizing their own safety, their relationships and their financial well-being by attempting to help their children. The pattern is all too familiar to local treatment providers—the adult addict loses a job or a home due to their addiction. The parent then agrees to let the adult addict move back home, often accompanied by small children, so the parent can “keep them safe” and “help them get clean.” while also looking after their own grandchildren. The addict continues to use, however, putting the parents in the difficult position of having illegal and dangerous activity take place on a daily basis in their home. Too often, the enabling parent will wind up actually funding their children’s habits, sometimes even driving them to the local “dope house” so they can score. Sometimes, the addict will actually make it to rehab, sometimes several times, but they often relapse. Sometimes they get arrested. Sometimes they overdose.

There is no easy answer to the question of “How can I help my drug-addicted adult child?” In any reasonably just society, the members of that society understand that we must have laws, and that there are consequences to breaking those laws. But when you’re dealing with parents and their misguided attempts to help or protect their own children, society’s laws often lose out to the parent’s well-meaning, though often poorly thought-out, attempts to help their offspring.

Although Jerry Roberts actions of March 4 may have been ill-advised, they were far from moronic. Mr. Roberts is, when you get right down to it, simply a loving father who was doing all that he could to help his daughter, who he could see was suffering.

Compassionate? Certainly.

Misguided? Perhaps.

Moronic? Not by a long shot.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts.

Bleeding hearts don’t cause brain aneurisms

by Ben Tomkins

If we’re completely honest with ourselves, this debate is a little ridiculous. The father of a 28-year-old woman drives her from New Lebanon to Dayton to buy heroin because she’s going through withdrawal and he couldn’t stand to see her suffer.

Got it. Take a minute to reread Sarah’s Forum Center as if you were an impartial judge instead of a bleeding heart, and be serious with yourself: where is the moment where I’m a cold-hearted bastard and you started bawling your eyes out? Nowhere, that’s where. If you read that and worked yourself up it’s not because of the facts, it’s because you injected a gigantic part of yourself into the withered vein of this story and had an emotional overdose.

I’ll even extend the courtesy to my opposition so far as to say that I think the father was acting exactly as described, and his heart was going to shatter into a million pieces if he had to watch his daughter laying on the floor sobbing for another second. As a matter of fact, I’ll even grant something he didn’t claim, which is that he thought she was actually going to die. I’ve seen people who are suffering from withdrawal, and it’s well known that it actually can cause you to die because of the shock to your system. Given all that, the question is one of—as it so often should be—not what he should have done, but what he could have done.

Let’s make it a quiz. Would you A) load her pushing-30 adult ass into the back of your pickup and drive to North New Gettysburg Ave. to find a heroin dealer, or B) take her to a goddamned hospital? Or call an ambulance? Or call the emergency room for advice? Or a 24-hour drug hotline? Or your best friend? Or even wheel her to the nearest veterinarian for some pain killers?

Seriously. There are seven hospitals that are either equidistant or five minutes farther away from their house than where they went to buy heroin, and the VA is actually closer. And before anyone starts winging and sobbing about being too impoverished to pay medical bills or worrying about whether the hospital staff would call the police, please dry those tears up and realize that I’ve already granted he may have thought she was going to die. If you are asking me to believe that there is such a thing as a parent so concerned about their adult daughter’s life that they are willing to take her to buy more of what’s killing her but not to a hospital, then … well …

OK, I admit there are people that stupid out there, and I do believe that there is such a thing as being so stupid that a ridiculous mistake can also be an honest one. However, ignorance and stupidity are not, and have never been, an excuse for breaking the law.

Obviously one’s mental state certainly plays a role in determining one’s guilt or innocence of a particular crime, but that’s only if you’re doing something reasonable. If you accidentally shoot your son because you believe, based on the circumstances, that he’s actually the man who said he was going to break into your house and shoot you at precisely that time, we can all understand how that might have manifested. If you were using an illegal fully automatic weapon you’re going to have to answer for that. However, if you’re in a bathroom in South Africa with no legs and blow your model girlfriend away through the door during an argument, you’re going to be so far up the river that you’ll be able to get a ride back to jail from John Hanning Speke. (You don’t know who that is. He discovered the source of the Nile. I feel like Dennis Miller, and no, that’s not a good thing.)

There’s a famous case from 1987 entitled Skycom Corporation v. Telstar Corporation dealing with contract law in which, to my mind, Justice Easterbrook really hits the nail on the head. In it, he writes, “the defendant Walters stoutly maintains that he subjectively intended to be bound (by a contract) and he wants to invite a jury to infer the same about Telstar … Yet ‘intent’ does not invite a tour through Walters’s cranium, with Walters as the guide.”

In other words, we have to take an objective look at your actions before we start listening to a sob story that might excuse it. Daddy’s story simply does not reflect the actions of a reasonable man who thinks his daughter is about to die or is suffering horribly from addiction to heroin. You take your daughter to a hospital where she will be monitored by doctors and nurses around the clock, administered methadone, and hopefully get some guidance to an effective rehabilitation center.

If I haven’t made the point now I don’t think I’m going to. Apply an objective eye, ask yourself if a reasonable person would do that, and if he was frazzled, does it completely and totally mitigate any responsibility on his part for taking his daughter to buy drugs.

The answer is “no.”

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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