THE HONORABLE MARK POWELL
LACKAWANNA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Mark Powell, District Attorney of Lackawanna County, has made combating the opioid crisis a top priority of his administration. He is the co-chair of the Lackawanna Recovery Coalition, which works to reduce opioid overdose deaths in Lackawanna County by connecting people with substance use disorder to treatment, implementing lifesaving harm-reduction strategies, advocating for long-term recovery, and working to reduce stigma surrounding the disease of addiction.
In October 2019, District Attorney Powell established an Overdose Fatality Review Team to study overdose deaths in Lackawanna County to determine the root causes of addiction-related deaths and implement evidence-based solutions. DA Powell also initiated a Fresh Start Program for lower-level drug offenders to supplement Treatment Court. Fresh Start gives offenders the chance to choose treatment instead of jail and avoid having a criminal record. He is also a board member of the Lackawanna County Treatment Court, which established and operates the Recovery Bank in downtown Scranton, a peer-driven recovery support center that focuses on whole-person healing of mind, body, and spirit.
DA Powell is on the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association’s Executive Board and serves on its Education and Training Committee. In addition, he was appointed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to serve on the Continuing Legal Education Board, which oversees education programs for attorneys statewide.
Before being elected DA, Powell was a partner in the Powell Law firm in Scranton for 27 years. He earned many professional accolades, including the distinction of being a Board-Certified Trial Specialist in both Criminal Law and Civil Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. For 12 years, he served as a Hearing Committee member for the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board and is a past president of Northeastern Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. He is past co-chair of the Lackawanna County Bench Bar Conference and serves on the Lackawanna Bar Association’s Continuing Legal Education and Bench Bar Committee. DA Powell frequently teaches CLE seminars for other attorneys across the state. In 2016, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy awarded him the Teaching Excellence Award at the Advanced Trial Advocacy Program.
DA Powell earned his undergraduate degree from Villanova University, his Juris Doctorate from Catholic University, and his Master of Laws in Trial Advocacy from Temple University where he graduated with honors.
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Joe Van Wie 0:01
Well, we're here with the Lackawanna County district attorney Mark Powell. Thanks for coming in Mark.
D.A. Mark Powell 0:08
Glad to be here. hope I don't disappoint.
Joe Van Wie 0:10
No, not at all. Mark, but I guess I want to start with kind of personal life and history. You're rooted to the area of Mike, we were You were indicating this history starts a long time ago.
D.A. Mark Powell 0:26
Yeah. So, so I'm actually third generation lawyer, my grandfather started our family law practice back in 1906. And he was an interesting man. He was orphaned when he was 13. His parents who had both migrated from Ireland had located here. And in 1888, they were involved in the mud run disaster, which was a train wreck that killed about 64 people from the area. And he was orphaned. And And ironically, that train wreck was actually a movement to avoid alcohol consumption. So it was a 20,000 person marched in Hazleton, about 10,000 people from Northeastern Pennsylvania, got on trains and went to Hazleton to participate in this March. And on their return home. Two trains collided right around the Lehigh Gorge. It's called Mud Run because of the area of the river. And, tragically, my my two great grandparents were lost. And, you know, at the time, that was a pretty big disaster. But for my grandfather, it was devastating. He's 13 years old, he had a little bit of an education, but but certainly not enough to survive. He worked in the coal mines, he became a slate picker, he I guess he was quite good at it. He worked his way up to be the mule boss. And, you know, the story at the time, you know, a mule boss was a pretty valuable position, because the mules were more valuable than the men. Yeah. And and he did that to serve the Irish. So he did that to survive. But he had a strong conviction for schooling. So he never dropped out of school, he was raised by his oldest sister, and continued his education, ultimately getting his college degree, became a teacher for years, became the superintendent of the music school and all during this time as a young man teaching. He studied law at night and ultimately opened our practice that now is 117 years old.
Joe Van Wie 2:41
That sounds extraordinary. First of the visual 20,000 people showing up for the demon rum to stop drinking. I think people tend to forget what that looked like for about 40 years. It was a real conflict, it would be
D.A. Mark Powell 2:59
sure. And then this would have predated like, prohibition, but clearly shows that alcoholism has been a problem throughout history, and was a particularly big problem that plagued the Irish back and in the late 1800s. And this movement really was a front to, you know, for abstinence to get people back to be productive workers to productive fathers and protect productive members of society.
Joe Van Wie 3:33
Yeah, it was a plague it is from the start. There's a rich history that I discovered as I got sober starting with Benjamin Rush, kind of give me the first description. This might be a disorder, this might be a disease. Martha Washington started, you know, the teetotaller kind of Washingtonian society. And the temperance movement kind of brought more of a fanatical approach to it alcohols, the problem, not culture or the mind. And, and we're here today, I mean, which is a lot more humane, at least the discussion which we'll get into, but yeah,
D.A. Mark Powell 4:10
we certainly have a much better understanding and, and no, it's a treatable condition.
Joe Van Wie 4:15
Yes, absolutely. When I'm also interested, the Irish, your grandfather is an orphan at 13 with some value and a 13 year old mine was instilled for education, specialization, lifting up out of out of the coal mines, and this is in the midst of labor movements. Just the first John Mitchell, this is kind of the same time period right, where kids were still working in mines.
D.A. Mark Powell 4:44
And I amazing respect for him. You know, he persevered and through great adversity, and was a, you know, became an incredibly respected lawyer in town. had eight children and Education was always key, all of those eight children were college graduates, all a children were teachers at some point in their life, they all received educational degrees. So there, I always grew up with this strong sense that education was important and constantly learning was important. And I really valued that principle. I, of course, never met my grandfather, I only know of him through the stories of my dad, but my dad was probably the most influential person in my life and, and a great man in his own right. Also a lawyer and I really followed him around since I was a kid, I, I can remember wanting to be a lawyer at five years old, I declared it to my kindergarten class. Yeah. And, and I never really lost focus of that goal. And that goal really carried me through difficult times now. You know, not as difficult of some of your guests right, I am had a pretty good life, I, I am not in recovery. I'm very supportive of the recovery community, but you are not in recovery. You know, alcohol has always been a social part of, of my life growing up, and, and I, you know, I think I have a pretty good perspective with it, but it never consumed my life. We, you know, I just never had any of those addictive qualities. I was very focused, I knew what I wanted to do. I knew how I had to do it, I, you know, listen, I had my struggles, I had to work extra hard, I failed, I failed forward, I fell backwards. You know, I, you know, it wasn't this dreamy I childhood with with no adversity, but I do believe adversity in whatever form does make you stronger. And that's why I'm always so inspired when someone is in recovery and has a success story, because they really have put very difficult times behind them. And, you know, they're, they're good people with a bad disease. And you can see that and when you see people who have I was just last night, at a meeting. And you know, there there are people in recovery, 2030 years and amazing success stories, and it's just truly inspirational.
Joe Van Wie 7:25
We are spoiled here. I believe I know the event. But it's, it's not uncommon to meet people have 2030 years, still active. It's not like, Oh, I got better, I'm out of here. And I'm going back to what I'm calling my life, it becomes through life, you have to pull other people out of the ditch, it's kind of I can,
D.A. Mark Powell 7:43
as I was leaving the event, a colleague, friend of mine who I knew was in recovery, and has a successful recovery of at least 30 years, just kind of pulled me aside and said, you know, each day I want to drink and each day, I go to a meeting, and each day I get by and convince myself that I don't need that drink. And each day, I feel better when I don't drink and, and, you know, that's pretty amazing to think that, you know, 30 years sober, he still struggles with with this condition. Now he's simply handling it successfully. But it's a difficult challenge on a day to day basis.
Joe Van Wie 8:24
It is it's the esoteric way to describe recovery. Maybe in a short sentence one way is connection. There's a disconnection and listening to your rich history that you're speaking about your grandfather, who you haven't met, but why you are, is connection, your story started long before you it's not just trapped at Mark, some people never get that perspective. And it keeps the humility that dues were paid before and before I got here to have that's a great perspective of life. And it's rich, and it's carried on from dad to son. Sometimes it gets broken. And I meet that a lot in addiction. You get so you know, trapped in the idea of self, my story, you forget all the variables that happened to create this and you lose your sense of gratitude of what we've done before we got here. Yeah.
D.A. Mark Powell 9:19
And I think there were just basic sound principles, you know, very blessed to have such good parents. My mother was truly the most religious person I've ever met in my life. And, and I don't mean to discount her influence with me. Truth be told, I'm probably more like her than my dad. But my father was a just a very powerful force. He was a successful lawyer. I wanted to be a lawyer. He had just tremendous qualities and he did instill those qualities and my life and so you know, the one we talked about, which was just this constant hunger to learn. He He instilled humility like, you know, I'm sure he wasn't a humble man because he was a very sought after lawyer but but, boy, he certainly acted humble and, and, and had gratitude in everyday actions. And he was also very compassionate, you know, just very compassionate he did criminal defense work most of his life, but he was always just so caring and compassionate for his clients. And that's what I grew up with. He literally, you know, took me into the Lackawanna County Prison when I was nine years old, I don't think you can get away with it. Now. It's an exciting field trip. And and I remember I won't talk about the guy's name, but he was a member of the Hells Angel. Yeah. And he had a scar on his face from about right above his left eye all the way down to his throat. He was a scary scary guy, and Stiller, and but you know, you know, to my dad, he was a client and he was a gentleman to my father, and my father was representing him at the time. But but those are the kinds of experiences I you know, I had growing up, I actually met that individual many years later, when I was in college and hanging out at cockeyed Oscars and was in the men's room and really got the heck scared out of me when I saw this gentleman and, and I remembered his name. And he was, you know, not causing any harm, but I remembered his name. And I said hello to him. And we made the connection with my dad. And, of course, he took me under his wing and treated me well that night, but but it was just a, you know, a compassion for your fellow human being yet my father possessed. And it was a fierce advocate for his clients, but he just possessed that compassion and understanding and forgiveness. And that's really the qualities I grew up with.
Joe Van Wie 12:01
Yeah, well, we're painting this rich history, which I wanted to do. And it's with an intention of how much has changed 200 and 100 years, with concepts, ideas, human, human, human, more humane ideas of what addiction is, and why it would cause criminality. So you see that rich history? What was your first personal experience of realizing what addiction was? Or realizing you misunderstood what it could be?
D.A. Mark Powell 12:33
I'm sure I didn't have a really good perspective of it, other than maybe five years before I decided to run, so sometime in the say, 2010, I started so I guess, let me back. Sure. So you know, life moves forward. I, I follow my dreams, I go to law school, I become a lawyer in 1990. And I joined the family firm. Unfortunately, my father had passed away at that point in time, so I didn't have the benefit of practicing with them. But But clearly, he was with me every day. And even to this day, I you know, there's not a day that goes by that I don't think of something that he said, or some guidance. But I had a very successful practice for 27 years, I practice with my brother and my cousin and truly enjoyed the work I was doing. But I was doing criminal defense and plaintiff's personal injury work. And I began, you know, after doing this for about 25 years, seeing the real impact drugs and alcohol had on individuals. So doing criminal defense work. Most crimes were fueled by some form of drug addiction, staggering. It's like in the present. Yeah. So if you know, someone was robbing a store, it's usually because they were fueling some of their addictions, some are downright dealing drugs. So I clearly saw that as just being so pervasive and every aspect of criminal law, but also on the on the personal injury side. I had many clients who were in chronic pain and fully addicted to prescribed opioid medicine, and, and they were zombies. They were walking zombies. And it's in it's a difficult balance, because I'm sure their injuries were legitimate, and I'm sure they were in pain, but they you know, at that time, and the
Joe Van Wie 14:28
tolerance progression, it steals the entire idea you have of yourself disappears.
D.A. Mark Powell 14:34
Yeah. So, and this is when, you know, not the best practices were being followed. There was definitely an overprescription by doctors. And clearly back then, most of folks who are turning to heroin, about three quarters of them or 75% of them, were getting first hooked on prescribed medicine. And insurance companies then would cut back on the prescriptions and then people or fully addicted, didn't have any choice but to turn to street drugs and use heroin, and this was common you were seeing, and we were seeing this I, you know, I didn't have, I guess, the best understanding about it. And I was kind of believing what was being told to me by the medical profession that, you know, this is how we treat chronic pain and palliative, how do we do anything, you know, we can't just operate on everybody. And it's not that that's untrue. But it's not the justification for the amount of drugs that they were pushing at the time. So, you know, I'm doing this for now, you know, 25 years or so. And I start to really get a, I guess a better sense of what's going on and how individuals with use disorders are really consuming the whole justice system, not just the criminal justice system, and how bad it truly is on a day to day basis. And there must be a better way. Yeah, there must be a better way. And then I had the opportunity to run for political office run for District Attorney, which which was a leap of faith, right, I had a very secure practice.
Joe Van Wie 16:16
It was exciting. It was very exciting race, it was historic for our county. I loved watching it, seeing it, you have my support. It was exciting, very exciting.
D.A. Mark Powell 16:29
And, and different for me right way out of my comfort zone. I was always, you know, I think I'm most comfortable in a courtroom. So sure, I wasn't really on the political circuit, I would be the guy writing the checks, not ever thinking I would run for political office. But also kind of reaching a point in my career where we're Life was good, I, you know, it was a good opportunity for change. And this is as comfortable and as, as happy as I was practicing. And this family firm and fulfilling this dream I had, since I was five, I just thought there was a really good opportunity to do more and actually give back
Joe Van Wie 17:09
you were you were pretty transparent, I saw you showing up at events. And this is maybe a year or two prior. So you know, it was whisper mill, you were eyeing this up, but getting to meet and talk to you. Throughout the years. I'm like, he's, he's driven by public service, you wanted to do something that was more fulfilling, you knew you were capable of doing. And that's why I was excited, because you were non political. And I knew you were really wanting to serve the public, you had some ideas, you wanted to change
D.A. Mark Powell 17:43
it. It really was. I can't say the best decision of my life because my wife would get mad at me, but it was close to the best decision in my life. And, and certainly professionally, the best decision. Yeah. And it was a hard decision, because I walked away from that family firm and like practice with my brother and my cousin. And yeah, and a big partner for many, many years, while you know, still respect and miss dearly. But it was the right move at the right time. And it really did allow me to do more. So just, you know, typical criminal defendant, you'd represent and, you know,
Joe Van Wie 18:26
you understood changes that needed to be made, that you're trapped in working in the confines of what was happening. I mean, I see it. And I saw you go into recovery events. And I was like, something's up here. Like I don't see this often. Unless it's, you know, a ribbon cutting you were going to openings events, I saw you talking to clinicians, I'm like Mark, Mark gets this. And that's why I wanted to
D.A. Mark Powell 18:50
have you. And I still do, right, I still go to these events, because I enjoy them. And I learn a lot. And I think it's important to support people in recovery. So what I realized in doing criminal defense work, I could maybe help one client at a time. But in my role as district attorney, I can actually implement some policies that helped a lot of people and we had good policies in place. So we had a very successful diversionary drug court that was in existence for 20 years that Judge brace created and I fully supported that, but I saw gaps, I saw that it really didn't address some low level drug offenders. And and what's important with with lower level or first time offenders is to get an assessment. Now, not all them have use disorders, but but if we can assess them early and track them, then we can know whether it's a true use disorder or just a pretty bad mistake. So
Joe Van Wie 19:52
an assessment kind of unfold someone gets before a licensed social worker or a therapist and they see what degree of diction, if it's an addiction, is it another co occurring condition? And from there, you start to make assessments of what should be done with that person.
D.A. Mark Powell 20:08
Right? Yeah. Right. So we get those assessments, if there's some treatment will provide some treatment will certainly provide some information. And we're talking, you know, kind of simple possession type cases. So we then will, will work out, you know, a small diversionary program where we get those charges dismissed and expunged so it's not hurting them. And hopefully they're on the right track, what we find is some of those people come back, but now we have a baseline. And now we can work with that in future treatment programs to get them on the right track. So that's called our Fresh Start program. But we implemented that I'm very proud of it, it's working, it's progressing. And it hopefully will continue and it filled that void with low level drug offenders that just didn't exist before. People wouldn't plead go to probation, really not good treatment, you know, not get hurt too, too terribly in the criminal justice system. But but you know, end up with something on their record, yeah, and, but not getting their needs addressed.
Joe Van Wie 21:07
It could be life changing some petty offense from being an addict or an alcoholic, could change the entire course of your life with that leverage charge, you see the Fresh Start program, as at least a lane of change, that what is coinciding with the drug court, get the assessment? Are these real charges? Is this person a criminal? No, they're an addict. Let's let's get them help. That's not happening everywhere.
D.A. Mark Powell 21:33
Now, when you talked about are there changes in the criminal justice system? There are I think they're the the movement in the reform and the reform that's valid is along those lines, yeah, folks, treatment, get away from just putting people in jail or jamming people up with with criminal records, because they can't get a job five years from now, because it's something they did when they were 18 years old. So there are positive movements in that regard. And, and and I feel very strongly that folks who are involved in recovery programs deserve that break, and we have several diversionary programs. Our veterans court is very successful. And it's limited to veterans, but it's much like any of the other diversionary drug courts, but it's peer to peer help with veterans helping other veterans and they respond better with veterans helping veterans, right? They, they relate just just like someone you know, who has been in recovery, working a program and helping someone in the initial stages of stages of recovery is very helpful. It's, you know, it's certainly better than me lecturing them on what to do, because I don't share their experience. I may sympathize with them, I may support them, I may understand what they're going through. But I can't relate to them. Candidly, I just can't, I haven't lived that experience. But I know well enough that if I get someone in there who is in recovery and working a program and giving back to that program, I'm not only helping that individual stay on the straight and narrow because they're invested in and working the program, but we're helping the individual who's starting the program. And and that is the magic sauce. It's right. It's it's one to kind of get over the physical dependency. But but that's just the start. I mean, there's there's just a whole other mental component to it. And then there's the giving back and working the program. And those are the people who are the most successful, because when they're working the program and giving back to the others, they're really helping themselves.
Joe Van Wie 23:38
We're covering a rich history. And just to put it kind of in perspective, one more time, which I liked doing. 100 years ago, it was illegal to be an alcoholic, and a lot of counties it was an alcoholic insanity, lose your liberty, your burden to everyone, your family, no one knows what to do with you, and usually made it to late stage addiction of 40. And it was an ugly deaths, you had to be out of eyesight. Let's put this personal way. Fast forward to 100 years, just from the tenure of the 80s and 90s use become an attorney. You're starting to see this machine of trying to peel apart what what is criminality versus mental health issues. And we're kind of in these forged changes, and especially in the last 20 years, concepts, changing ideas and that they're working. Where do you see it going? Like, there is so much that has changed in the last 20 years of what you thought or myself or how I was raised with in the 80s this is a crime. Well, okay, that's a crime but what's the mind that committed it? Like it's there's there's a trauma here, there's addiction. That's gonna get confusing. How are you parsing that?
D.A. Mark Powell 24:51
So the crimes are still on the book, right? Yeah, there's still public drunkenness and some of the crimes that really don't have bail themselves to treatment are the crimes that cause harm to others? Yes, like our DUI statutes, and that result in an injury or death, they're still treated very seriously seriously, because there have to be consequences to those actions. And, you know, my whole approach so that I, that I, I'm very proud of, because when I look back at some of the speeches I made five years ago, that vision has become a reality. But I looked at this opioid crisis as really a two part solution, we had a focus, both on the supply in the demand and in the demand is all of the things we're doing with the diversionary programs to promote recovery. Okay. And if we could reduce that demand, ultimately, we're going to stop the revolving door, we're going to get people on the right track. So we're very supportive, and our office of the recovery plans. And, and I hope moving forward, that's what our courts are looking at the laws are still going to be on the book. I mean, there are cities and states that have essentially decriminalized a lot of these drugs. I'm not a big fan of that, because I don't think that's the answer. But, but I certainly am supportive of mitigating the consequences for the action and getting people's help and recovery. And that's hopefully, where we're going and expanding those programs and sustaining those programs because they work. We know they work. I also thought we needed to do more to reduce the supply. And a lot of that is beyond the capabilities of law enforcement. In Lackawanna County, it's really our federal government that really needs almost a military operation at this end to stop the drugs coming in. And we know what you know, the drugs are being manufactured in China and India and Mexico. And they're all coming through the Mexican cartel. And, and particularly with something like fit and all they're so small in quantity, you can, you can mail them and get them. So we have we have seen more and more fentanyl on the streets. It's mixed with more and more and, and we as far as law enforcement is concerned have to do a better job to stop this apply those drugs. So those cases we take very seriously. So
Joe Van Wie 27:28
and again. And they are joint kind of operations with state City Federal
D.A. Mark Powell 27:34
audits, often and certainly in communication on how they come in. But
Joe Van Wie 27:39
so you got two lanes. I mean, you got this one where it's almost an operation of defense, it's way beyond the scope of Lackawanna County. But the other lane, which really interests me, the main piece is the Fresh Start program, and decriminalization of drugs where it begins and ends from marijuana to something of the effect of heroin that you could see, you know, in the Netherlands, injection sites, I mean, that could be its own episode, but maybe just a bore down on Lackawanna County, the Fresh Start program. How is fentanyl changed this and what have you seen in the last two, three years? The distressed COVID Fenton holes everywhere? What how is your office? How is this?
D.A. Mark Powell 28:28
We really we really have a couple issues going on? Yeah, in the last couple of years. So and our numbers, because of all of our harm reduction efforts significantly went down in 2019. So we had great progress. So we know the programs work, we know the harm reduction programs work. Then the pandemic gets so now there were these added stress for people with use disorders. There's isolation, there's anxiety, there's there's a, an inability to get treatment because you can't go to a meeting. Right and, and believe me, everyone did their best and zoom helped. But it's just not that versatile connection. So you have the pandemic affecting recovery and unfortunately, our overdose deaths had increased despite all of our efforts now, without our efforts, I think they'd be 10 times worse. Yeah, but at the same time, you have more fentanyl on the streets than ever. So it's the gasoline to the fire. Fentanyl is is available everywhere and it's mixed in everything. So it's it's cheaper. It's probably half the cost it was two or three years ago. It's more available because they're pushing it into the community more and more. And they're mixing it with everything. So you have a couple things on the horizon with fentanyl one. It is literally being laced in everything
Joe Van Wie 29:59
you say ever anything I want to pause there because, you know, I grew up in the 90s people who would venture into maybe cocaine use College, heavy binge drinking. This is a safe drug you could walk away from, like, you know, are you seeing cases of fentanyl be mixed with cocaine as well? Absolutely.
D.A. Mark Powell 30:20
So attain meth heroin are primarily at sources, we've seen at least and marijuana joints that are also really not safe. One of the great things we're trying to do for harm reduction is have fentanyl testing strips available which are technically illegal because they're drug paraphernalia but but allowing individuals to at least test the substance they're going to use so they know they're not getting if your intention is not to get fentanyl,
Joe Van Wie 30:50
are you working with this city city and the county or position being formed that this could happen?
D.A. Mark Powell 30:57
It is it's it's, it's not as complex as it needs a bold move there. We're being told it's really such a simple procedure. But right now I can tell you on the state level, we're optimistic it'll pass in June and be decriminalized. So sometime this summer, we're very grateful that our fentanyl strips are going to be allowed. But fentanyl really is in everything. And we're also seeing it in counterfeit form. So one of the real scary things right now are a lot of on the dark web. Folks ordering drugs thinking they are Percocet or Adderall. They're pure fentanyl disguised as a pill like Percocet and I don't have a
Joe Van Wie 31:53
psychotic in my, in my view that there's three complexities with it. I've experienced people we were working with, was sober a couple of weeks ordered some what they were calling at the time research Kemp's from the dark web arrives at their house. There's over three weeks they do it through debt this year of Lackawanna County a couple of years ago, another kid has substance use disorder starts to get up, you know, promising start ahead of him four months, taking anxiety attacks doesn't have a script for us taking Xanax goes down to Kensington buys a pressed pill, Xanax, it was all fentanyl killed,
D.A. Mark Powell 32:35
and they're they're lethal doses of fentanyl, like one pill can kill. They're being shipped that way. So drug dealers can cut them and, and but but even your drug dealers, you know, they're not the most scientific labs, there's a lot of cross contamination, maybe even unintentional, they're not understanding or appreciating the dose. So so many of these drugs are lethal. And and and, you know, and that's why the Narcan program is is so critically important. So Narcan is the reviving drug and we've taken great strides in our harm reduction efforts to get Narcan in the hands of everybody at first started out with with the police and first responders. Believe me, there was some reluctance there. You know, now it's common with the stigma, like why, you know, I Oh, you know, they wanted to die, or, Hey, I just revived him last week, I'm not wasting another dose. But we made, you know, the in this was, you know, five to seven years ago, we've made great strides in that regard. And law enforcement is very supportive of it. And I know, several stories where people have been revived by Narcan. Several times, yeah. And then tell their story on how they finally got it. Finally, understand, finally, hit rock bottom, and now they're in recovery, and they're giving back and they're working as counselors and you just need one of those stories to kind of fuel inspire you to understand that this is the right thing. So so then we expanded the Narcan distribution beyond first responders to a leave behind program so that they didn't just administrate it, but if someone had an overdose, now they're leaving it with family. And then our office developed a mailing program so you simply can request it really, and we will mail you a free
Joe Van Wie 34:21
sample isn't aware of that when that's called leave behind.
D.A. Mark Powell 34:25
It's behind programs. So all this information is available through the Lackawanna recovery coalition. So that's attached to this episode Lackawanna recovery.org, and and that's I co chair that with Barb Durkin, and really a lot of these ideas and then the implementation of these ideas come from that group. But that group is far beyond the two of us. It's really some community leaders, medical doctors, rehab specialists ecba
Joe Van Wie 34:54
They, they're data driven. And so what they're bringing to you is there's confidence What's behind it? Like these were policies, this is just obvious to you. This is driven by data.
D.A. Mark Powell 35:04
It works so that that valen program, and we've distributed 1000, how does it
Joe Van Wie 35:10
work? Can anyone request like because the hurdle was you need to descript to have this in your home or for as a public or common person to get a hold of this life saving medicine. So
D.A. Mark Powell 35:23
you can get it by script, you can get it at a pharmacy, but you don't need that you can simply write in and we'll mail you a copy. Excellent. And the copy will be all literature where you can get help direct you to treatment, but also give you Narcan to and a tutorial on how to distribute it's like a nasal spray, it causes no harm, no, but it can change your life. And, and then while we don't collect this data, because it's anonymous, who will request we have had a dozen stories of people being revived. I did just last week, and one of the local chiefs said to me, he goes, Oh, it's a rough week, and we had two near overdoses. And you know, mark your, your dark and pack it was in the bedroom, they used it. So we found that, you know, people who are on the scene, even before first responders are the family members, so if we can get Narcan in the hands of family members to revive someone, that's, that's one more opportunity to to save a life. So there's just this is an inoculation. This works
Joe Van Wie 36:28
everywhere. I mean, this is still in kind of a battle for advocates of addiction and harm reduction across the country. And this is where Lackawanna counties that
D.A. Mark Powell 36:38
we Lackawanna County is truly a leader. We have lots of great resources. We know what works, we need to sustain a lot of these programs, but we know what works and and Narcan clearly works. And so what we discovered then now we're you know, we're moving on a lot of different levels. And we have a lot of good people doing it. But but then we circle back and we have a nurse from a school say, Well, geez, can I get it for the school? Yeah. And now we discover, oh, my god, the schools don't have Narcan. So we reach out to the superintendent, some schools did, but many did not. So now we supply the schools with Narcan. And and we're expanding that program. We want hotels to have them we want people to have them who are going to be in situations where they may use it. And one of the lives saved was not, it was someone who requested the Narcan. It was not because they had a use disorder or a family member with the use disorder but literally a body showed up on her front lawn. And, and thank God she had Narcan and she went out and revived him and he lived. So the stories are real, it works. I suspect there are more stories than the ones we hear about. But you only just need one to inspire you to continue the fight
Joe Van Wie 37:57
Picchu, you're telling the story to me of of enlightenment, sitting across from his a district attorney who is doing humane and, you know, saving lives and being tough on the front of where violence and other people are harmed or victims of crimes to no fault of their own. It's it's a tough, that's two lanes now you're constantly working on it.
D.A. Mark Powell 38:19
But you have to do both, you have to do it all and you know, one of the things I'm very proud of just just last week, we received a $2 million federal grant to focus in on some gun and gang violence but but the the gangs are the ones distributing these drugs. So it really is to stop the supply. So we will put that money in place on the enforcement end and stop this poison from coming in the streets and stop the guns and stop the gangs from delivering the drugs. So we really put an impact on on the supply, but we you know, no one solution going to solve this and no one expert is going to solve it. So these coalition's are really valuable because we hear from all different experts and then we work together to try to implement some of these programs.
Joe Van Wie 39:09
That's the safest thing you could hear instead of one person having a plan that smart people, many smart people 34 are sitting in a room and taking you know every direction at this and that's that comforts me to hear that one complexity I hear about a lot. I wanted to ask you about what is this happening in Lackawanna County and a friend in Colorado striking comes out does a sweep say to summarize takes out all the drug dealers of this this region and the void was filled you know over the next coming weeks by outsiders. And they just see every time that happens fentanyl spikes. It's like someone that's not even planting a flag for long term operation or relationships with their the people they're selling with. And overdoses just go boom is law enforcement articulating what to do in that vacuum that could protect people? If outside forces come in and just don't care? What's in the cut of heroin, cocaine, marijuana? Is this a problem?
D.A. Mark Powell 40:13
It's a problem. And if we take a drug dealer off the street, it's not long before another drug dealer replaces them. But But what's the alternative? We have to continue that fight? We have to be very aggressive in the law enforcement. And, and I do believe that if we focus in on some of the gang activity, we can reduce that supply. Yeah. But we made, you know, we made this concerted effort with reducing opioids and meth spiked. And so you sit there and go, you know, how do you win? How do you win, but but if you do nothing, we know it's going to be worse. And so you, you know, you have to just be strong headed and know you're doing the right thing. And I truly believe our approach with both harm reduction and focusing in on taking the drugs off the street is the right approach. Is it perfect? No. Are we going to have drug users? Are we going to have overdoses? Yes, really the difference now, with why we have overdoses? You know, because people in recovery are bound to relapse from time to time. But they're relapsing with a deadly or drug so so when they do relapse, sometimes that's fatal. It's changed
Joe Van Wie 41:29
everything. Yeah, it changed everything. I could flounder through high school smoking pot and stale beer. You know, the consequences were low. I could flounder in that area for a while, but you could be in your first week of addiction, and you're gonna pay a price you you're not willing to pay, you might not know that it's how do you reach that person? Because traditionally, like old recovery methods, we're adults, you're not browbeating people do you want it, we could we could help, we'll do anything to help if you want it, that's changed, because that person's lives in jeopardy within a week. And when you're an inpatient treatment, you have 30 days to break in to that denial like this is gonna kill you faster than waiting. 20 years. Scary. It's really scary.
D.A. Mark Powell 42:11
So we're doing a lot on a multiple different levels. And another source of this. So the recovery coalition has a great think tank to come up with ideas. But we also through the district attorney's office created an overdose Fatality Review Team. And that was also funded by a grant we were able to secure but we study each and every overdose death. We talked to family members, we get the history of their treatment, both in rehab and their exposure in the criminal justice system. And we try to come up with solutions based on these individual studies. And we gather data, and it's it's really evidence based, but but there are clearly some, and there's patterns, you're seeing that clear, clear patterns, right
Joe Van Wie 42:59
and develop an approach that, yeah,
D.A. Mark Powell 43:03
clear, clear patterns. And while every, you know, the demographics are different, we could be dealing with a man or a woman, older, young, wealthy or poor. But you know, the consistent patterns always seem to have some type of drug use before they're 16, some type of childhood trauma, undiagnosed mental health issues. Is there just consistent pattern so then we try to figure out how to better address that. And that's where we come up with a lot of our harm reduction strategies. And, and so, you know, are we doing Narcan? Yes, we are looking at other areas. So we know that the criminal justice system can be that good hammer or hook to get someone into treatment, and then have some guidance with it. But then when someone if they are incarcerated there, they were typically not getting any treatment while they're incarcerated. And then when they were released, they had about a 10% more chance of overdosing, because they got their first fix. They were either using at the same levels they did before, but they're now lethal doses because they don't have the tolerance or they were getting heroin mixed with fentanyl, and they were incurring these deadly doses. So we have programs now in the prison to address recovery, and then a kind of a reentry program where we try to help them as they get out of prison, not just getting jobs and housing and transportation, but to actually continue them in a treatment course. When someone goes into the emergency room and has a near overdose. We have a warm handoff program where they immediately get into treatment and recovering. We provide those seven
Joe Van Wie 44:40
services CRS is it does peer to peer Yes, so you implement the certified recovery specialist which is a it's a PA certification to have a peer to peer relationship, standard of ethics meet to meet the individual where they're at and not declare one path to recovery. You We'll give you all the info.
D.A. Mark Powell 45:01
And it's voluntary, of course, not everybody takes you up on it, but, but when someone you know, hits rock bottom, they're more receptive to treatment. Yeah, and, you know, coming out of a an or with their life saved as as kind of a live audience, right? You know, it's a good time to try to get there and really
Joe Van Wie 45:18
say that, you know, some 12 Step groups wait till the morning will come over the board, let them be.
D.A. Mark Powell 45:24
So there are a lot of great efforts in that regard in and because we know, so many children are affected, and kind of fly under the radar and don't get treatment we're focusing in on some programs in the school, there's a program for drug affected children who are children of addicts and the impact on them. So there are some programs in the works, of course, all these costs money, we need funding, we're applying for grants left and right. So they're great programs. They're science based. It's not just a social experiment, we know they work, yeah, we need to fund them, and we need to support them. And fortunately, in northeastern Pennsylvania, there are a lot of resources for individuals, it's not a problem to go into rehab these days. I mean, you can get rehab pretty much anytime, anywhere. That's a good news. But it's beyond just going into a 28 day program.
Joe Van Wie 46:22
There is a caveat there. And it's a trend, it's just starting, I don't know, if you're, you're seeing this, my fear is some of the newer business models of treatment centers are not servicing, Medicaid, Medicare, it's, it doesn't fit in a model that is roughly like are gonna have 20 Medicaid. It's so it's more of a vocation, and you're not going to get rich. But wow, I think we need some more. We just just believe just shut down. You know, I think a lot of this goes right down to schicke Shini. There's a juvenile program. But I do see opportunities for entrepreneurs or someone would have vocation and a heart to fill that need. And multiple states is more dignified treatment for Medicaid and county funds. For the court system I'd like to meet personally, I'd like to
D.A. Mark Powell 47:11
see, yeah, no, no. And, and I've seen all levels. I just visited the Salvation Army the other day, and, and they're doing a really nice job. Yeah, they do. And I was a little surprised, because I hadn't been there. And you know, they house maybe 6070 men and, and one of the rooms had about 15 beds in it. And I thought, well, that's some tough living. Where are you gonna live, but then I was told, you know, a month ago, they were sleeping under a bridge. So they're delighted to be there. They're in a safe environment, it's a clean environment, they're getting the treatment that they need. And they're getting the support.
Joe Van Wie 47:49
I know, that dozen guys 20 years sober from Jersey, Connecticut came here, got a job, part of the community Salvation Army. It's hard to put perspective what I what my tastes or preferences are, and religion and quality. But we've come a long way from, you know, the mud. Mud accident, what we understood about this to, you know, your office now, it's, it's huge. And for, you know, a kind of a wrap up question coming towards an end, I wanted a little thought experiment. You know, so much has changed the last 20 years, just with ideas and how we're defining this. Do you daydream in 2025 years, 30 years where that office will be at what they'll be defining as criminality or where the fights be one.
D.A. Mark Powell 48:40
Yeah, you know, I, I hope we continue on the right path. And I hope we learn and continue to learn, I told you, I'm a Constant Learner. So I'm always open to new ideas. I'm somewhat suspicious sometimes of some of the experiments that that go on without the data to back it up. Yeah. And and I'm very data driven in my decision making, and I understand the arguments, you know, like, you know, legalization of recreational marijuana is better, because it's not going to kill you. I understand it, but it's still an addicting drug. And, you know, and I can't make that argument that it's any worse or better than alcohol. Alcohol is an addicting drug. But I hope we continue to learn, I hope we continue to provide these services. I know that once this pandemic passes, the harm reduction efforts that we have in place work, and they will continue to drive down the numbers of overdose deaths. I think medical assisted treatment has come a long way to help people. You know, personally, you know, I'm not a doctor, and I don't know if long term use is the right way and I understand there may be a very small element of society that it is the only way but for the vast man Jordi, I think it's a short term aid to get people sober. And that's the goal with it. So I'll, you know, defer to the experts in those who you,
Joe Van Wie 50:11
you are you meet with you meet with so many people. And that's profound. That's that's real leadership. You're listening to addicts, clinicians, doctors, administrators, Human Services. That's how it's gonna be one. Yeah.
D.A. Mark Powell 50:28
And I think all those factors are important. And again, we need to stop and reduce the drugs coming in. And it's scary, because, you know, every drug we reduce, it seems to get replaced. And historically, that has been the case, but but we need that continue that fight as well. And that fight is as important as trying to help people through recovery. So because if we can reduce the supply of the drugs, we're going to be reducing the use of the drugs.
Joe Van Wie 51:00
Well, district attorney Mark Powell, will you come back maybe annually for an update? Absolutely. I'll still be podcast and I'm flattered you came and you've been a friend and support to not only the recovery community, myself and what I'm trying to achieve. So I want to thank you again.
D.A. Mark Powell 51:18
Thank you, Joe. And you're doing great work. Really, the more we can get this out there, the more we're going to reduce this stigma, it really is a matter of getting the message out that this is a treatable condition. We need to talk openly about it. We need to let people know those resources are out there that will solve the problem. Get rid of the stigma, get the treatment, get people in the right path.
Joe Van Wie 51:41
Links below to all county resources and the programs we spoke about today will be found below in the comment section. Thank you
Transcribed by https://otter.ai