On January 11, 2019, the world lost a kind, gentle beautiful soul: Andrew Jeffrey Rich. His story is yet another example of how profit-driven forced commitment and involuntary medication crushes the mind and spirit of the most vulnerable among us.
Andrew was a bright, happy, creative, charming person who captured our hearts from the moment of his birth on January 28, 1989. He was generous to a fault, always ready to give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. One of his last acts was to purchase a cheeseburger for a friend with the $2 remaining in his wallet. Andrew was a true empath—one who could apprehend the mental or emotional state of others, and whose sensitivity made him vulnerable to the world’s slights and unkindness. Andrew felt and loved deeply; and taught us that those who love the most, suffer the most. He leaves behind many, many loving friends and family members whose lives are richer for having known him.
Andrew struggled with opiod addiction for many years. His family supported him, and celebrated with him when he reached a milestone of five years of being opioid-free in May of 2018. Unfortunately, our legal system was not helpful or supportive of Andrew’s needs. In 2013, he was prosecuted for being a drug addict, and saddled with a felony conviction for possession of a very small amount of heroin. The collateral consequences of this conviction robbed him of his future. County prosecutors argued against expunging his record, meaning that serving time for the offense was not enough—rather, he was to serve a life sentence that included forever denials of educational, housing and occupational opportunities. He was understandably despondent regarding his circumstances.
Following a breakdown in May of 2017, Andrew was diagnosed with a serious mental illness. At that point, he entered the broken mental health care and mental health legal system in Wisconsin. At the time of his breakdown, he was tased multiple times and nearly killed; “chemically restrained” with 400 mg of Ketamine (a/k/a angel dust–a recreational dose is .1-.3 mg); rejected admission at three psychiatric hospitals; and ultimately thrown into an isolation cell at the County Detention Center—treatment known to have lifetime detrimental effects for the most sensitive among us. He spent time confined in a state-operated, lock-down mental institution, where he reported that he was subjected to inhumane treatment and unlawful restraints. Andrew’s complaints of inhumane treatment in June of 2017 were ignored; just seven months later, State inspectors issued 48 citations to the facility following an investigation in response to the death of a patient/inmate. Following Andrew’s release, he was assigned to a County-appointed doctor who spent only a few minutes with him each month (at most). He was involuntarily medicated with drugs that were not monitored and which were adjusted only once in a one-and-one-half year period. His complaints about debilitating side effects were ignored. Just a few weeks before his death, his family asked that they be allowed to select his doctor and monitor his treatment, telling the Court that the family, not the County and its taxpayers, should be responsible for this. That request was denied. Andrew was beaten down, hopeless and depressed as a result of this infringement on his civil liberties.
We can and must do better than this. It is our hope that Andrew’s tragic passing will serve to raise awareness of the significant defects in how our government handles criminal cases involving drug addicts and the mentally ill, as well as how involuntary civil commitments are handled. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
Andrew’s Voice, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that advocates for reform of the mental health laws and mental health treatments that are failing so many people like Andrew.