Addiction is a Mental Health Issue: Justice for Ray Tibbetts

Share This!
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international organization dedicated to reversing the negative effects of the war on drugs, especially lack of access to meaningful mental health care among people who use substances. In Ohio, SSDP represents over 200 students on eleven campuses. Troubled by the State’s commitment to executing Raymond Tibbetts on February 13, 2018, SSDP at the Ohio State University has penned this call to action. Our intention is to neither condone nor minimize the severity of his crime, but rather recognize the injustice of executing someone who committed such acts while struggling with addiction and mental health problems despite multiple attempts to receive support. The state system that failed to help someone struggling with addiction who desperately wanted to maintain sobriety, now intends to execute the very person who fell through the cracks decades before. Tibbetts’ problems with mental health and substance use didn’t develop in a vacuum. His parents also had unhealthy relationships with substances, leading to their children’s removal from the home due to neglect, abuse, and constant violence. The State then placed Tibbetts in inadequate foster homes, where the abuse and violence only continued – in one home, he was even tied to his bed at night. Tibbetts was bounced around in foster homes and orphanages for his entire childhood, and by fourteen, he’d accumulated his own habits of substance use and various delinquent charges. As a ward of the foster care and juvenile justice systems throughout his youth, those who touched his life were in a position to connect him with adequate mental health services, yet ultimately failed to do so. In adulthood, Tibbetts’ addiction escalated as his mental health problems went untreated. While many death row inmates struggled with addiction prior to their incarceration, Tibbetts is unique because he sought responsibility for his mental health by seeking addiction treatment. Tibbetts frequently turned to AA programs in an effort to remain sober. Although these programs helped him manage his addiction in the short term, he was still unable to maintain sobriety for more than a year at a time. After being prescribed medication to treat a work-related injury, Tibbetts started to abuse the prescription and lost the traction he’d gained. As one expert at trial explained, he “might have made it” if he hadn’t reverted to addiction at this moment. Today we recognize the dangers of overprescribing opioid medications; yet in 1997, a physician chose to prescribe opioids to Tibbetts despite his history of unhealthy substance use. In July of 1997, Tibbetts voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital in an attempt to control his consumption of alcohol and pills. He was discharged just four days later with no long-term plan. In September of the same year, less than two months before the offense, he was readmitted to the hospital with hallucinations. He told staff he was unable to stop using alcohol but expressed his dedication to achieving sobriety. Sadly, he attempted suicide during this hospital stay. Despite this, Tibbetts was discharged after just 12 days. Tibbetts was never provided intensive residential substance abuse treatment or comprehensive mental health treatment to deal with the underlying trauma from his childhood. Still in the throes of relapse and under the influence of prescription medications, cocaine, and alcohol, Tibbetts committed these terrible acts in November of 1997. By that time, Tibbetts had suffered from an unhealthy relationship with substance use for more than three decades. In August of 1998, Tibbetts was convicted of the aggravated murder of his wife Judith Crawford and their landlord Fred Hicks. Raymond Tibbetts is now scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, February 13th. If you believe Ohio shouldn’t take the life of someone whose existence has been defined by trauma and untreated mental health and substance use problems, please call Governor Kasich at (614) 466-3555 and ask that he grant Ray clemency in the form of a life sentence without the possibility of parole. If you’re passionate about ending the death penalty in Ohio and nationwide, please visit the websites for Ohioans to Stop Executions and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to see how you can get involved.