Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Drugs & Guns; Arming Investigators

If there was any clearer evidence that the nation's prescription drug problems are the product of large, organized criminal enterprises is the fact that the Texas Medical Board (TMB) has asked the state’s attorney general to rule on whether the board may authorize its investigators to carry concealed handguns as private citizens when investigating pill mills in recognition of the danger agents face when serving warrants or conducting other investigatory activity related to illegal distribution of prescription drugs.

Under current law, the investigators can be licensed as peace officers, but they are not authorized to carry firearms or make arrests.

The argument in favor of arming investigators is, as TMB Executive Director Mari Robinson said in her request to Attorney General Greg Abbott, because "investigators are sent into areas where guns are kept.”

Ohio has already determined that these situations pose grave danger to investigators. The Ohio State Medical Board authorized its investigators to carry weapons in August 2011, in response to similar dangers posed by pill mills.

Robinson said representatives from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Harris County District Attorney's Office appeared at the TMB’s June 2012 meeting and told of finding weapons in pill mill clinics, including handguns and a shotgun mounted behind the reception counter at one facility.

A medical clinic where guns are kept is not in the business of healing people...

“The potential for violence…is also present because many ‘patients’ are buying drugs to re-sell them on the street, a criminal activity that increases the likelihood these people will be carrying cash, contraband and weapons,” Robinson said.

Robinson asked Abbott to rule on four questions:
  • May the TMB allow, but not require or request, its investigators to carry concealed handguns as private citizens while on duty with the board?
  • Can the TMB legally adopt a resolution to allow its investigators to carry concealed handguns but at the same time indicate that such action is not required by the board or the employees' job descriptions?
  • Would the TMB's adoption of a resolution allowing such action be protected by sovereign immunity from suit and liability?
  • Does Texas Government Code Section 411.208 (which grants immunity to agencies for actions of individuals licensed to carry concealed handguns and creates a right for Texas citizens to carry the concealed weapons) protect the board and its officers and employees from liability and suit when they allow investigators to carry concealed handguns if the employees are licensed to carry the weapons?
Gay Dodson, executive director of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, told WorkCompCentral that its investigators are commissioned as peace officers and are allowed to carry firearms. “They generally don’t walk into a pharmacy with a gun on their hip,” Dodson said, but the investigators may be armed when serving warrants.

Texas is a big state. The likelihood of an investigator finding him or herself in a remote area where there are no additional law enforcement resources is much higher than in an urban setting.

Drugs are big business, as we all know. Whether they are prescription drugs or banned substances, criminal enterprises find that the demand versus supply ratio makes this business irresistible especially since it is mostly a cash business which helps avoid taxation.

Interesting too, is that this debate comes at a time when the nation is reviewing its gun policies in the wake of several tragedies involving gun violence - albeit not concerning law enforcement or drug operations.

It makes sense to me that investigators from one board (medical) be on the same legal playing field as investigators from another board (pharmacy) when conducting similar operations for related violations of the law. Whether the underlying perpetrator is a physician or a pharmacist, that they are engaging in the same criminal activity (and may be under the same criminal organization) is a compelling argument in favor of armed investigators.

Still, TMB is taking the right approach in first asking for a legal opinion from the attorney general's office. It's much faster and less expensive than asking for a direct change in the law.

The criminal enterprise knows no bounds. Agencies that are tasked with law enforcement need to have the resources necessary to protect themselves and the public. I'm sure if Abbott's office decides the law is not in TMB's favor that the legislature will be asked to, and will, make the requisite changes.

One part of the prescription drug epidemic this country is in has its resolution in the education of physicians and patients.

The other, and larger, part of the equation has its resolution in the neutralization of organized crime - and unfortunately this takes guns. That's just the way it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment