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Addiction in Franklin County

Andrews a lone vote against tougher heroin sentences

While many criticize her position, she says law punishes users

ORANGE — North Quabbin legislator Denise Andrews has come under fire for being the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against toughening penalties for heroin trafficking.

The Republican candidate for the Second Franklin District House seat now held by Andrews has criticized the incumbent for what she calls “epic blindness to local concerns” in being the sole vote to sustain a gubernatorial veto against raising the maximum sentence for heroin trafficking from 20 to 30 years.

The House voted last week 151-1 to override Gov. Deval Patrick’s veto against raising the maximum sentence for trafficking between 18 and 99 grams of heroin.

“In effect, Rep. Andrews’ vote would have maintained the existing ineffective level of sanction for the most explosive and damaging social problem in the 2nd Franklin District,” said Athol Republican Susannah Whipps Lee. She will square off against Orange Republican Karen Anderson in the Sept. 9 primary to see who will challenge two-term Democrat Andrews.

“Where does my opponent spend her time? Certainly not on Main Street in Athol or Orange. Certainly not in Baldwinville. The illegal use of opiates is epidemic in our area and only getting worse. This is further proof of Ms. Andrews’ epic blindness to local concerns,” said Lee.

Lee, who failed in her 2012 bid to unseat Andrews, added, “If this doesn’t point to the need for new representation, what does? This sort of epic insensitivity only makes me want to increase my efforts to get elected.”

Andrews responded, “When I looked at the vetoes that came back, I have tremendous respect for the Gov. Patrick, and when I look at where his perspective is and what his comments were, this is what I consider when I vote.”

Andrews pointed to her vote as an example of how she broke with the ranks of fellow Democrats and the ranks of party leadership because she doesn’t believe in mandatory minimum sentences, doesn’t believe in “excessive incarceration” and doesn’t believe in the Legislature telling judges how to do their job.

“I’m there to read the details, take a vote and not follow blindly party leadership,” she said.

Former legislator John Merrigan, a Franklin County court official and co-founder of the regional Opioid Education and Awareness Task Force, said he did not understand a 151-1 vote.

“Dazed and confused. Seriously, I don’t understand it,” Merrigan said. “We have compassion towards people that have been caught up in the disease, but I think law enforcement has made it very clear that traffickers will face the full extent of the justice system if they catch them.”

Merrigan said he could use clarification on the numbers involved — grams are not the common measure of heroin — but remained concerned. “If she had concerns or reservations I wish she had informed her constituency, who have been very active with the task force effort in the county and the North Quabbin Region,” Merrigan said.

Alex Zaroulis, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said Patrick vetoed the increase for 18 to 99 gram trafficking but signed the section increasing by the same amount the penalty for trafficking 100 grams or more. “By doing this we addressed the concern about increasing the maximum penalty for trafficking of smaller amounts, which would more likely impact individuals suffering from addiction, while at the same time increasing the penalties for those trafficking in larger amounts, which would more likely include individuals profiting from and taking advantage of individuals with addiction disease,” Zaroulis wrote.

Patrick called the maximum penalties “disproportionate” in vetoing the first section.

Lee pointed to Andrews’ vote as an indication of the incumbent being out of touch with a serious drug problem in the district, adding, “No one, from the police departments to the social service agencies, from the cops on the beat to the firefighters who have to rush to saves the lives of those who have overdosed, can turn a blind eye on this problem. ... This is the newest and most deadly iteration of the social ills that have been spawned by generational unemployment and hopelessness.”

Andrews pointed to her securing $2 million for an opiate rehabilitation facility in Petersham as well as her involvement on the local opiate task force.

The Second Franklin District includes Gill, Erving, Warwick, Orange, New Salem and Wendell in New Salem in Franklin County.

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained errors that have been corrected.

That's "mandatory" sentencing- pardon- in the first sentence.

Denise Andrews has a broader perspective. Our jails are already overwhelmed and minimum sentencing insures that they will be further overwhelmed. There is also a difference between using and trafficking. Meanwhile cuts to nearly every recovery program in the state have left few facilities available to treat these problems. Jail is not a solution for addiction.

Pardon, that "mandatory" sentencing in the first sentence.

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