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Alcoholism and Disability: Oregon Policeman’s Firing Raises Questions

Alcoholism and Disability: Oregon Policeman’s Firing Raises Questions

The $6 million lawsuit of former Gresham officer Jason Servo calls to light inadequate funding for addiction treatment in Oregon, as well as current problematic methods of addressing alcoholism.

In January 2011, officer Jason Servo was arrested after his unmarked police vehicle drove into a ditch in Clackamas County. The arresting officer testified before the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training that in his 15 year history of drunk driving investigations, Servo was one of the top 10 most intoxicated people he has ever arrested.

Alcoholism Under the Americans With Disabilities Act

Servo is now suing the city of Gresham for $6 million claiming that his subsequent dismissal from the Gresham police force violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit alleged that Servo was suffering from alcoholism, a recognized disability under the act, and should not have been fired.

Two months after the accident, the officer pleaded guilty and entered a diversion program. Upon fulfilling the program’s requirements, Servo’s DUI was dismissed. He then entered an inpatient program for drug and alcohol treatment where he was diagnosed as an alcoholic.

Debate Over Servo’s Claims

The lawsuit claims that in order to save money, the chief dismissed Servo to avoid paying for his treatment. “Just as with any type of disability or disease, they should have made some kind of effort to accommodate that, or some kind of effort to work with him, and not simply sever all ties,” said Shawn Kollie, one of Servo’s attorneys.

Servo, a detective who was the department’s lead firearms instructor, had taken the police vehicle to a firearms training session in the nearby city of Troutdale. Later, he met up with fellow officers for dinner and drinks, a common practice among Gresham officers according to the lawsuit filed April 25, 2013.

“There were times where I went home and I couldn’t get crime scenes out of my head; I went to drinking for that and there are other officers that do the same thing,” Servo said at his attorney office in Portland in late April.

The case is currently ongoing, though there is some debate about the legitimacy of Servo’s claims as well as the legal rights of his employers, the fact that Servo was off duty during the time of his arrest being a major factor.

The State of Alcohol in Oregon

Though the Servo lawsuit raises some disconcerting questions, his case is not out of the ordinary for Multnomah County, where Gresham and Portland, Oregon’s flagship city, are located. According to a 12 year study by the Oregon Health Authority, 44% of all motor vehicle fatalities in Multnomah County were alcohol-related, beating the state’s average of 37.5%. Multnomah County also surpasses the state average of alcohol induced diseases (e.g. degeneration of the nervous system, cardiomyopathy, liver disease, chronic hepatitis) by an average ratio of 15.5 per 100,000 of the population versus the state’s average ratio of 13. Furthermore, reports from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that more than 39,000 people have abused or become dependent on alcohol with in the past year.

On the plus side, data reveals that teen drinking and binge drinking has been in consistent decline since 2008 (the only exception being binge drinking among 11th graders). Surveys show that the average age of initial alcohol use is 10.7, which is right on par with the state average of 10.8 years old. Despite the good strides that are being made to rectify these numbers, Oregonian 8th graders still drink significantly more than the national average: 22.5% versus 14%, respectively.

Oregon currently ranks 20th in the nation for alcohol consumption with DUI fatalities totaling 569 in the past five years. In that period of time, the state subsidy of drunk driving fatalities has cost a whopping $3.1 billion.

Is Servo an Indicator of a Larger Problem?

Though officer Servo may have a “legitimate” case for his onset of alcohol consumption, that does not excuse the fact that he put lives at risk when getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. His lawsuit raises a hot button issue for the state: addiction treatment funding, or the lack thereof. One of the primary reasons that people do not receive treatment is lack of funding, and for Oregonians in the throes of addiction, that is just one more blow. A recent SAMHSA report ranked Oregon 47th in the nation for Substance abuse treatment, leaving many of the 237,000 alcoholics looking for treatment in Oregon without support. Reasons for this dismal statistic are numerous, but Servo has shown Oregon one important warning: get the people help, or risk affecting the whole population.

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