A Campbell River judge rejected the sentence range set for fentanyl traffickers by refusing to send an addict to jail.
In her sentencing decision last week, Provincial Court Judge Barbara Flewelling accepted expert evidence that the prison does not deter or cure drug addicts who also sell drugs to fuel their addiction. She suspended her sentence and placed Tanya Lee Ellis on 12-month probation, instead of the three-year prison sentence requested by the Crown.
“Prison sentences and involving the criminal justice system have not been effective in stemming the influx of fentanyl into the drug supply and the growing number of overdose deaths involving this drug,” Flewelling said.
Ellis, a 43-year-old mother of two, pleaded guilty to selling fentanyl balls to an undercover police officer in late 2019.
Ellis testified that she grew up in an abusive household and experimented with drugs in grade 3. She was introduced to crack by an older man in grade 8. In her early twenties, she met Art Nelson, the father of her two daughters. A drug addict who spent a lot of time in prison, he introduced her to heroin. On August 30, 2019, he died of a drug overdose, two days after both attending a five-week residential treatment center.
Ellis, who has been hospitalized seven times, still uses drugs. She explained to the judge what it is like to use and inject drugs: “… take hours to find a place where my body will receive the drugs … I feel so horrible and I just want to feel better and you can’t find it anywhere all over your body. . As if I had scars. My veins are collapsed. I have to get inside my feet sometimes, which is painful… I try and I try for hours, sometimes bleeding all over… in the hot bath to try to get my veins out… But it’s still absolutely disgusting ” , she testified.
After Nelson’s death, Ellis began selling small amounts of drugs for his own use of opioids and to prevent withdrawal.
Flewelling heard testimony from Dr. Ryan McNeil, director of harm reduction research for the Addiction Medicine program at the Yale School of Medicine. Although he does not know Ellis, he said his story is common. Forty to 50 percent of people who use drugs have also sold drugs, he said. Usually, their lives are marked by trauma, homelessness and extreme poverty.
Jail does not work for the opioid addict drug dealer, McNeil said. It does not prevent drug users from selling drugs. In addition, the post-release period is one of the greatest risks of overdose because people have lost their tolerance. Opioid withdrawal should also be taken more seriously, he said.
“I have known people who literally sold their boots because they were in withdrawal and had to buy medication to deal with these experiences. It’s the sickest feeling you’ve ever felt, ”McNeil said.
Court-ordered counseling is not effective because it does not address the underlying factors that lead people to addiction and sell drugs. Imposing conditions of abstinence is unrealistic and dooms people to failure, he said.
In 2017, the British Columbia Court of Appeal set the range of sentences for first-time offenders convicted of fentanyl trafficking at 18 to 36 months. However, over the past four years, a fundamental shift has taken place in society’s understanding of drug addiction and the relationship between street-level trafficking and the need to avoid the severe effects of withdrawal, a declared Flewelling.
She found Ellis’ moral guilt to be at the bottom of the ladder because she was selling drugs to support her own drug needs, rather than for greed or money.
During her year of probation, Ellis is required to complete 30 hours of community service. If she consents, she may be referred for medical treatment and evidence-based counseling.
“It will help her in her desire to associate with healthy people, learn other skills and manage her illness, but” more importantly, it will help her realize that she is a valued member and contributor to this community, ”said Flewelling.