Review of one day's court filings in Tulsa, Oklahoma counties tells story of addiction

BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER and TIM WILLERT Published: March 17, 2012
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From the 21-year-old woman hooked on pain pills to the 72-year-old man arrested in the sale of them, the stories of drug and alcohol addiction are woven throughout the court filings in Oklahoma's two largest counties.


Of all felonies filed in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties on a single day chosen at random, six out of 10 were linked to drugs or alcohol, a review by the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman shows.

The World and The Oklahoman reviewed records of all felonies filed on Jan. 24, 2011, in both counties to determine which cases had some relationship to drug or alcohol abuse.

Out of 62 felony cases filed in the two counties on that day, 38 people were either charged with crimes directly involving drugs or alcohol, used substances while on probation or deferred sentences or committed crimes while under the influence.

Nearly all of the 38 people had been convicted of prior crimes. Several had been kicked out of drug court or sober living programs while others committed new crimes after they had been granted deferred sentences.

A Tulsa County case involved a man charged with drug possession who tested positive for amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, PCP and ecstasy. An Oklahoma County woman charged with selling pain pills sat in a lawn chair holding a child while doing business over the phone, court records state.

Defendants spanned all races and classes, though the majority were white and male.

Doug Drummond, first assistant district attorney for Tulsa County, said the figure is actually lower than what his office experiences.

“I would estimate 80 to 90 percent of our cases, including homicides and robberies, involve some link to illegal drugs or alcohol,” Drummond said.

“Most of the murders and robberies in Tulsa County have some kind of nexus to drug use or trying to obtain or sell illegal drugs. They may be taking drugs or alcohol when the crime is committed. Victims are robbed and burglarized because someone is trying to support his or her drug habit.”

Drummond said victims often get lost in the discussion about the relationship between substance abuse and crime.

“They are the ones who are hurt, either physically, emotionally or financially, by all of this, and no one seems to care,” he said.

Scott Rowland, first assistant district attorney for Oklahoma County, said prosecutors try to determine motivations for crime when deciding how to handle cases.

“We try to see if it is an economic-motivated crime or an addiction-motivated crime,” he said.

Rowland said people who possess drugs for personal use are not likely to wind up in prison, especially on first offenses.

“Contrary to popular belief, you have to work pretty hard to go to prison for possession of drugs in Oklahoma,” Rowland said. “There are some who believe our prisons are full of simple drug possession cases. … They're more likely to go to prison for (possession of drugs with) intent to distribute.”

Drummond said drug court is an option prosecutors consider in cases where defendants are good candidates for treatment. All but four Oklahoma counties now operate drug courts, programs in which defendants undergo drug testing, treatment and abide by other requirements in order to avoid prison.

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BY THE NUMBERS

Jan. 24, 2011, felony cases

Felony cases filed in Oklahoma and Tulsa county district courts on Jan. 24, 2011

• Total felonies cases filed in both counties: 62

• Drug or alcohol links: 38

• Men: 42

• Women: 20

• Oldest: 72

• Youngest: 18

• Most common charge: possession of controlled drug with intent to distribute

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