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Prosecuting overdose deaths as homicides

 December 6, 2023 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Wednesday, December 6th.

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A proposed initiative could make it easier to prosecute overdose deaths as homicides. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

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Monica Montgomery Steppe was sworn in yesterday (Tuesday) as the San Diego County Supervisor for District 4.

She's the first black woman to serve on the county board of supervisors.

After taking her oath of office, she paid tribute to Leon Williams, the first and only Black man elected supervisor.

“Four decades have passed since the first Black person was elected to serve our county. Together we will be working to change a system that has long stood as a board that had forgotten about the voices and experiences of the people who make up this county.”

Montgomery Steppe's election means democrats once again have a majority on the board of supervisors.

It's also the first time in history that a majority of the supervisors are women.

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The 20-24 presidential primary election is only a few months away.

The San Diego County Registrar’s office is reminding voters that their political party registration determines which presidential primary candidates they can vote for.

If you are registered with a political party, you will only be able to vote for that party’s presidential primary candidates.

If you are “Registered as Nonpartisan,” independent or no party preference, then you will have to select which primary you’d like to vote in.

This year, the American Independent Party, Democratic Party and Libertarian Party are allowing non partisan voters to vote in their primary.

You can check your registration, re-register, and register to vote at sd-vote-com.

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SD-SU is reducing its season-ticket prices by 20 percent for next year’s football season.

Sales dropped by more than 5-thousand tickets between 20-22 and last season.

The 20-24 season tickets will cost anywhere from 200-dollars, up to 12-hundred-dollars.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

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A proposed ballot initiative could make it easier to prosecute overdose deaths as homicides.

Reporter Katie Hyson looked into the possible effects.

My daughter did not die of what was originally reported as an accidental overdose. My daughter was poisoned. That’s Matthew Capelouto, who’s behind the initiative. Four years ago, his 20-year-old daughter Alexandra was home in Temecula on Christmas break. He says she had stopped taking her prescribed medication for depression. Most people would never know she had these issues . . . She was a straight A student . . .  very quick witted, and a good sense of humor. He didn’t know she was seeking other ways to self-medicate. I got a call from my youngest daughter saying, Dad, get home. Alex is dead. Capelouto says she bought the painkiller percocet from a dealer on Snapchat. But the pills were actually fentanyl. She took half of one before going to bed and never woke up. The dealer is serving a nine-year sentence. Capelouto says it’s not enough. He proposed a law in her name. If someone is convicted of supplying hard drugs – like fentanyl or cocaine – they would receive a warning saying – If they don't stop and if someone dies as a result of their continued action, they can be charged with murder. Alexandra’s law failed several times to pass through committee at the state legislature. So Capelouto is trying to get it on the ballot to let voters decide. This version also includes a mandatory minimum 10 to 12 year sentence for anyone who provides drugs that result in someone’s death. I would rather fill our jails than our morgues. District attorneys can already prosecute these deaths as homicides, but this would make it easier. Capelouto says it mirrors a similar warning given for driving while intoxicated. Jeannette Zanipatin, a lawyer and director of California’s Drug Policy Alliance, says the two can’t be compared. We're setting ourselves with a slippery slope. She says the proposal doesn’t meet the legal standard for homicide of intent. Suppliers and users often don’t know exactly what’s in their drugs. The best way to actually . . . understand what is in the dose is to allow for more drug checking. nat pops - RV starting On a late November day in Chula Vista, Jes Cochran helps load San Diego’s Harm Reduction RV with portable testing strips. As somebody with a pretty extensive lived history with substance use, I got really tired of watching my friends die from lack of resources. She’s from Indiana, where supplying drugs that result in death is punishable with up to 40 years in prison. She says, and data show, when neighborhood drug dealers are incarcerated, overdoses increase. It doesn’t reduce the supply, but it does make it more dangerous. People aren’t familiar with the new dealers or what they’re selling. Cochran says harsher penalties also make users less likely to call for help when someone they’re with overdoses. We're seeing even minors being charged, right? And these are kids that got a Xanax bar and they gave it to a friend and they didn't know that it had fentanyl in it. And how are they supposed to, right? Like, they're not superheroes. They can't look at something and tell you what the molecular structure of it is. The RV pulls up behind a breakfast diner, where more than a dozen people gather around tents and cars. nat pop and underlay What’s your name? . . .Led by Tara Stamos-Buesing, the team hands out kits with everything from hand sanitizer and beanies to narcan and pipes. Some use right in front of the RV, slumping to the ground. The team isn’t phased. They’re focused not on ending drug use but on making it safer. nat pop . . .  Straight pipes, she probably needs wound care, hygiene, all of it . . . The clean needles and fentanyl test strips they hand out save lives for pennies each. Team member Jordan Parnes operates a drug testing machine in the back of the RV. He’s put about 600 samples through it since September. He says if opioids are not from a pharmacy, they almost certainly contain fentanyl. I asked him to estimate how much it costs to run the harm reduction street outreach. More than incarcerating one person for a year and less than incarcerating two people for a year. Under about 200,000 dollars. Though white and Black people use and supply drugs at similar rates, Black people are far more likely to be incarcerated for it. Under the decades-long war on drugs, overdose deaths have continued to climb. Stamos-Buesig points to the 111,000 deaths each year. We are having the equivalent of 747 crashing every day in the United States of people overdosing. She says she and initiative proponent Matthew Capelouto have the same goal. She just doesn’t think his approach will work. People aren't getting a solution in prison . . . That's not balancing any scale. There is no this takes away from the number of deaths. Californians may see Capelouto’s initiative on clipboards for their signatures. Capelouto says congressman Darrell Issa [EYE-sa] plans to announce a federal version of the legislation on Friday. Katie Hyson, KPBS News.

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The county will not be implementing a new law next month that expands who can be involuntarily treated.

Health reporter Matt Hoffman says, county supervisors voted to delay the implementation of the law until as late as January 20-25.

This change of sb43 is a big deal Before supervisors voted whether or not to delay SB 43-- which would allow more people  with severe substance abuse disorders to be involuntarily treated-- San Diego County’s Behavioral health services director Luke Bergmann told the board this expansion would be far reaching.. Luke Bergmann, SD County Behavioral health services SB43 will almost certainly result in many more folks being brought into emergency departments with similar presentations, but SB43 comes with no new resources That’s a major concern for county hospital systems.. Which supported delaying implementation for a year..In a 3-2 vote supervisors ultimately agreed with chair Nora Vargas’ proposal to have more time to develop how this expanded involuntary treatment will actually work.. Nora Vargas, San Diego County Supervisor Our county team has never been afraid to implement smart policies or to address tough issues, but i also insist that we be very careful and we do things right and we do it well. Because we’re talking about real people Supervisors agreed to have staff report back in 90 days to assess if there’s a possibility that this involuntary treatment expansion could happen sooner.. MH KPBS News.

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Coming up.... We learn about Kumeyaay culture and how it’s being preserved. We’ll have that, just after the break.

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San Diego County has the most tribal governments and reservations in the country.

That includes the Kumeyaay Nation, whose ancestral land San Diego sits on.

Historically, the Kumeyaay were forced off their ancestral lands and their language and culture suppressed.

Today, students, especially Native students, don’t have an opportunity to learn about that history and heritage until college.

That’s where Professor Stan Rodriguez comes in.

He’s the director of Kumeyaay Community College… one of three tribal colleges in the state, and chair of the Kumeyaay Studies department at Cuyamaca College.

He spoke with my colleague Jade Hindmon, about his work on preserving and passing along Kumeyaay culture.

Here’s their conversation.

It seems like there aren’t many opportunities for Native people to have a culturally relevant education like this, especially when so much K-12 curriculum is dominated by white American narratives?

What do you hear from students in the Kumeyaay studies program, or those taking a class for the very first time? Is this the first opportunity for a lot of them to learn about Indigenous history, at least in the classroom?

And we talked about preserving the Kumeyaay language. How many Kumeyaay people still speak the language today?

You’re also a mentor to many Native students. How are young people learning about Kumeyaay culture and language? And how are they working to preserve it?

TAG: That was the director of Kumeyaay Community College and chair of the Kumeyaay Studies department at Cuyamaca College, Stan Rodriguez, speaking with KPBS Midday Edition host, Jade Hindmon.

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That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. Join us again tomorrow for an update on what’s going on in your community. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great Wednesday.

A proposed ballot initiative could make it easier to prosecute overdose deaths as homicides. In other news, San Diego County will not be implementing a new law next month that expands who can be involuntarily treated for substance abuse disorders. Plus, we learn about Kumeyaay culture and how it’s being preserved.