Summit Daily editorial: Fentanyl overdose trial raises tough questions
There are two Summit counties: One has the highest life expectancy in the nation. The people there are affluent. They exercise, eat right and live to almost 87. The other Summit County is where young lives are cut short. It’s a world of addiction and mental illness.
On Nov. 2, 2015, Mark Largay died in that Summit County. He was 34 years old when he overdosed on fentanyl, a painkiller 100 times more potent than heroin.
Before his death, Largay was a troubled soul in need of help. Instead, he got a tumultuous romantic relationship with a woman who had been his group therapist in a Summit County drug court.
The woman, Liz Crandall, never told investigators that she deleted hundreds of text messages on Largay’s phone after his death. In some of those messages, he made suicidal threats. In one, he told her he would OD on heroin if they broke up. But Crandall never told investigators about any of that. She had also concealed their relationship from her employer, Mind Springs Health, which later fired her when the truth came out.
We know all this because a criminal trial last week pulled back the curtain on a dark side of Summit County.
Largay’s former therapist and girlfriend wasn’t on trial last week, however. Instead, she was District Attorney Bruce Brown’s star witness in an inexplicable and overzealous effort to convict William Lancaster of manslaughter, as well as charges of evidence tampering, attempting to influence a public servant, solicitation of a person to commit a crime and drug offenses.
Lancaster also struggles with addiction. The 28-year-old and Largay met in drug court and later lived together as housemates in Blue River. Back in 2015, Lancaster was in that house taking a shower when Largay overdosed in his bedroom.
The manslaughter charge stemmed from text messages Largay sent Lancaster the day before his death asking about pricing and dosage. Brown said that communication made him complicit in the sale. In the texts, Lancaster provided advice and also told him that inhaling the vapors from heated patches was effective but potentially lethal.
Most would see this as shop talk between addicts. Lancaster did not sell or give Largay fentanyl (the man who allegedly did that is currently awaiting trial). In fact, he warned Largay not to use the drug in the way that ultimately caused his death. The case laid out against Lancaster was an embarrassing waste of time and taxpayer money. In the end, a Summit County jury rightly acquitted him of the most serious charges.
The trial’s testimony offered a disturbing portrait of how drug addiction is handled in our mountain community, both in the courts and our mental health institutions. No doubt there are many success stories of recovery, but the fact that a therapist entered into an illicit relationship with a patient — no matter how rare that is — should compel us to ask tougher questions about our mental health system. Many of us may live long and prosper in Summit County, but we must also remember the most vulnerable members of our community. We can’t afford to fail them again.
The Summit Daily editorial board consists of editor Ben Trollinger, publisher Meg Boyer, a reporter and three citizen members: Ken Gansmann, Tamara Drangstveit and Rick Hague.
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