DEA’s zeal overshadows real tragedy
It was abundantly clear that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, was thrilled with itself about its recent arrest of an Aspen man on suspicion of dealing and possessing heroin.
On Wednesday, the DEA sent out a press release touting the arrest of Aspen resident Ryan Welgos and Aurora resident Nelson Raul-Gamez. Sending out the press release was nothing unusual; law enforcement agencies routinely do this when they believe an arrest they made was newsworthy.
And make no mistake, this was newsworthy. After all, authorities say they believe Welgos ” either directly or indirectly ” supplied heroin to Adam Peterson, who died of an overdose fueled by speed-balling (injecting cocaine and heroin) on March 23 in Aspen.
But there was a particular aspect of this back-patting press release that was troubling, because it fueled the DEA’s propaganda war not only against drugs, but against Aspen itself.
“For years a small but vocal group of Aspen residents have argued that drug enforcement ” particularly DEA ” is not welcome in their city,” Jeffrey D. Sweetin, head of the DEA’s Denver office, said in the press release. “Time after time they have said there is no drug problem there. But, as this tragedy demonstrates, drug distribution and abuse are present in Aspen. And as long as they are, DEA and our willing partners will continue to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers wherever they operate ” including Aspen, Colorado.”
The press release containing Sweetin’s statement, which mentioned Aspen three times, was sent to media outlets in Denver and the Roaring Fork Valley, law enforcement officials, educators, and at least one church, among other recipients. And, curiously, it was sent to People magazine, which we can only surmise was done because Aspen is a magnet for celebrities.
This all makes us wonder what the DEA had to gain by essentially renewing its PR war against Aspen, and using patently false claims to make its case.
For example, we have never heard anyone say that Aspen does not have a drug problem, as Sweetin insisted in the press release. What we have heard is Aspenites questioning the methods used to address it.
We also are unaware of a vocal minority that does not want the DEA here. However, we have heard people question the DEA’s often heavy-handed tactics in particular, and the war on drugs in general.
There is a big difference between Sweetin’s statement and reality. To trumpet this misinformation to media outlets across the state, and to People magazine, for heaven’s sake, does nothing to move the debate forward. It only polarizes the argument further by making the issues seem more black and white than they are.
Furthermore, Sweetin’s posturing about Aspen overshadowed the real tragedy, which was Adam Peterson’s death. Certainly there should be accountability for such a drug-related death. But when the DEA opportunistically uses a fatality to take a swipe at Aspen ” and congratulate itself along the way ” it only erodes our trust in DEA.
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This summer in Aspen is likely to include indoor and outdoor concerts, maskless gatherings and no state or county-mandated restrictions on social distancing at restaurants or anywhere else.