Man's criminal history illustrates drug 'epidemic' in Portland, counselor says

Man struggles to stay out of jail

PORTLAND, Ore. -- More than a dozen mug shots taken of Matthew Medlin over the last decade show how meth addiction has ruined his life.

He's been in and out of jail more than two dozen times over the past 15 years.

You can see in his booking photos from the Multnomah County Jail, the steady change in Medlin. One after another, they show the face of a man all too familiar with the criminal justice system. Many of his previous crimes were related to theft and burglary.

Photos: Matthew Joseph Medlin booking photos, 2002-present

He was in court again Wednesday afternoon. He’s accused of jumping onto a police car, damaging it and three others, climbing a tree, then running into a restaurant in Southeast Portland. Police said he licked a man and tried to bite an arresting officer.

More: Face-licking, car-denting suspect arrested in Portland

Randi Triplett is a recovering addict. She understands what drugs can do to a person.

“You are not who you normally would be. You are a totally different person. Your values are gone. Your morals are gone. Your empathy is gone. Your compassion is gone. You are not who you were born to be,” she said.

Triplett was addicted to heroin, meth and alcohol. Before she knew it, she said she started losing her family, her schooling and her job.

“I looked around and I was hanging out with people that were in and out of prison, people that were robbing houses, people that were committing crimes, and then eventually I became one of them,” she said.

It wasn't until she was arrested for car thefts and went to jail that she realized her life was crumbling. Fortunately, she found a recovery program.

“The drug problem in Portland is large, I would say epidemic in scope,” said David Eisen, Executive Director at Quest Center for Integrative Health.

Eisen said the problem is multi-faceted and fixing it isn’t easy.

“We have a housing crisis that is part of the problem. We have an employment crisis that is part of the problem. We have a dearth of mental health services that are a part of the problem. This is a many-layered onion,” said Eisen.

In Medlin's case, he was recently sent to a probation program that was supposed to help him find housing and address drug addiction and mental health issues, but Multnomah County officials said he was only there one day before he was arrested for his most recent crime. The jail is a place some believe has become a rotating door.

“There's been a systemic problem… for probably 40 years. It started with the war on drugs, the so-called war on drugs,” said Eisen.

He said problems really started ramping up after the war on drugs began.

"It really exploded into let's lock ‘em up. They're not us, they're not a part of our community. It's us and them as opposed to we are them,” he continued.

He said the problem is that addicts are put behind bars, instead of receiving focused behavioral and medical treatment.

For Triplett, without people to help her, she said her life could have been much different.

“I would either be dead or in prison. I don't know if I would have lived past 25,” she said.

Triplett is now 28 years old. She's been clean and sober for four years and she's now a peer counselor.

Eisen said addiction is a disease that’s treatable.

He said it costs $36,000 a year to put someone in prison. He wonders how far that money could go if it instead went to a good treatment program.


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