Letters: Offer a helping hand, not handcuffs to ODing offenders

Posted: November 16, 2012

AFTER HEARING about the recent heroin overdose of Stephanie Bongiovi, the 19-year-old daughter of entertainer and philanthropist Jon Bon Jovi (Tattle, Nov. 15), I was relieved to learn the young lady received medical attention quickly enough to avoid death or permanent injury.

However, I was saddened to learn that police in the upstate New York town where she was attending college are now pursuing criminal charges against her for drug possession, in relation to the incident.

Ms. Bongiovi is not a criminal, but rather someone in need of health services. Given her parents' level of community involvement and financial resources, I am confident they will ensure she receives the very best treatment available.

It is wrong to prosecute someone for doing something that only hurts themselves, in addition to inappropriately plastering what is a private health and family matter all across the media.

As a society, we need to stop criminalizing heroin users for personal possession and reallocate those enforcement funds to harm-reduction and treatment services. To protect public health, we need needle exchanges, methadone clinics, safe injection sites, access to ibogaine therapy and drug-rehabilitation programs - not jail cells, which do nothing to solve the problem and in many cases make it much worse.

Heroin is a very deadly, yet very popular drug these days. We should offer a helping hand into treatment for our friends, family and neighbors suffering from addiction, not a pair of handcuffs.

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a Good Samaritan law passed by the New Jersey Legislature in August that would have provided legal immunity to drug-possession charges if 9-1-1 were called because someone needed medical attention due to an overdose.

The governor has the blood of our state's children on his hands for that irresponsible, reprehensible veto. For every fatal overdose in which the victim didn't get help because people were afraid of getting arrested, you can now thank Chris Christie.

I hope this tragic circumstance will inspire the Bongiovis to join me in advocating drug policy reform to end the failed, "War on Drugs" and replace it with health care that saves lives.

Eric Hafner

Toms River, N.J.

Why the transfers?

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and Mayor Nutter plan to implement a mass transfer policy that will rotate up to 25 percent of the department's frontline firefighters to new, unfamiliar locations, which will disrupt the continuity of service, adversely affect response times and jeopardize the safety of civilians and firefighters alike.

As many as 300 firefighters with a minimum of 10 years of experience in their current assignment - many with 20 or more years in the same location - will be transferred beginning Jan. 1.

The city's plan would remove the most experienced firefighters from the teams they have worked with for a decade or more. The firefighters they intend to transfer are the ones who teach the young guys, the ones who know the unique features of the surrounding neighborhoods and the best routes to take to reach a fire site most quickly and safely.

Also, the construction of homes can differ greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Veteran firefighters assess these differences every time they are on the street or on a medical run. Through experience, they come to know how homes are laid out, which allows them to make their way through smoke-filled rooms and save people's lives.

Fire Fighters Local 22 wonders if the motivation behind this bad policy is our continuing fight with the administration for a fair contract. We also question whether the mass transfer policy is a thinly veiled attempt by the city to force veteran firefighters into early retirement, resulting in cost savings to the city.

Fire Commissioner Ayers has said that the transfer process will ensure that all firefighters have equal opportunity to work in various assignments and acquire diverse skills. The same result could be achieved by reinstituting "Training Companies" in traditionally fire-prone areas of the city, where new firefighters were sent to train alongside veteran firefighters.

With seven fire companies permanently closed and several other companies being browned-out daily, the gaps in firefighting coverage in this city have increased. The added response times resulting from mass transfers will only ensure that fire deaths will rise and the window of opportunity to implement lifesaving measures on an emergency basis will be diminished.

Bill Gault, president, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22

If tables were turned

It was reported that the Philadelphia police lieutenant who was caught on video punching out a woman - in the presence of about a dozen of his fellow officers - at the Puerto Rican Day Parade back in September is finally going to be prosecuted. Had it been Joe Citizen who attacked that poor woman, those officers would have viciously pounced on him, and he would have gone straight to jail.

Rob Boyden

Drexel Hill

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