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Montgomery County Grand Jury Releases Recommendations to Decrease Drug Deaths

John Becker is a former decorated Hatboro cop who became addicted to painkillers and used his former position in law enforcement to commit crimes to fuel his addiction.

The crimes committed by this 16-year police veteran ranged from stealing drugs, cash and guns from the police department’s evidence room to having drug users purchase drugs for him from their dealers.

“At the end, I was just lost to my addiction, with my brain justifying my actions,” said Becker on Wednesday.

The law enforcement community was both angry and embarrassed by his crimes for which Becker was sentenced in 2012 to an 11½- to 23-month prison sentence (15 days in jail and the remainder of the first 11 months on electronically monitored house arrest) and an additional seven-year probation sentence.

Since that time and with inpatient and intensive outpatient treatment, Becker has cleaned up. He earned a master’s degree in behavioral health counseling and now directs a program in New Jersey for first responders suffering from drug addiction.

“John’s story is a story of hope,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele.

Prior to Becker relating his story at a press conference held by Steele on Wednesday, Steele also brought forward the parents of two youths who had died because of their addictions and the pain that they and their families experienced.

“A big part of me died that day almost three years ago when my son died,” said Marissa Wadsworth, choking back tears. “It has been a living hell since that day.”

Steele used the comments by Becker and the parents to drive home the need to help put the brakes on opioid and heroin addiction.

“This is a public health crisis,” said Steele.

In 2014, the county reported 161 deaths attributed to drug use. That number increased to 177 deaths in 2015 and 249 last year.

“There are few people in our county who have not been touched by drug addiction,” said Steele.

Looking at the escalating deaths, Steele took the unusual step of assigning the county’s investigating grand jury to perform an extensive study of the issue and to provide recommendations.

Steele used Wednesday’s press conference to unveil the grand jury’s 81-page report and the six major recommendations by the grand jury following its 13-month investigation.

The six recommendations include:

  • Development of a statewide online system to identify treatment bed availability. Too often, explained Steele, addicts seeking help are turned away because treatment facilities in their area are filled.
  • Establish treatment protocols. For example, a drug user might enter a hospital emergency room for a drug overdose. There should be someone on hand that can explain treatment options to the user and who can immediately get them into a treatment program.
  • Restore and toughen mandatory sentences for drug traffickers.
  • Increase collaboration and implement better data collection in the region. For example, Montgomery County has its own drug task force. However, drug deaths do not recognize county borders, said Steele. A regional task force, sharing information, could help, he said.
  • Create pre-arrest drug courts at the district court level for young offenders to provide them with early intervention and support.
  • Invite representatives of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the insurance industry to sit on local and regional drug task forces. We should look to increase collaboration whenever we can, according to Steele.

“These recommendations are jumping off points that I hope will spark discussions that will lead to action,” said Steele.

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