How to Fix a Drug Scandal is a 2020 Netflix original series on the 50,000+ drug tests that were faked in two Massachusetts state drug labs by Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak.
10 out of 10 stars. This is the way a series is supposed to unfold. No weird flashbacks and flash forwards every two seconds. Told chronologically and in detail.
Why Massachusetts Has So Many Drug Cases
This series is introduced by a Massachusetts journalist whose been covering the Massachusetts War on Drugs for the past thirty years and he is the first to admit that it has made zero progress. Massachusetts is the only state in the United States that still has holdover laws from when it was part of Colonial England.
Massachusetts has more unlawful drug charges than any other state due to the following four laws:
- A warrant is not required to search for drugs.
- Informants can only stay out of prison if they entrap someone else and testify against them. So they are incentivized into lying about other people they set up as criminals which leads them to prey on those previously convicted.
- Chemistry drug labs for prosecution are completely unreliable and have no set procedures for testing which this series reveals at its absolute worst. In this case both women were faking drug tests which put 50,000+ innocent people behind bars.
- There is a low threshold for the prosecutor to prove you had drugs or sold drugs. Basically it’s one witness and the drug test. That’s it.
Sonja Farak: Amherst Massachusetts Drug Testing Lab
In 2013 Sonja Farak’s coworker found that two drug samples were missing. When she searched Sonja’s workstation she found drug paraphernalia including a crack pipe made from lab supplies and several open drug samples that had been used. Subsequent investigation revealed that Sonja had been doing drugs on the job for the past year.
When investigators examined her workstation they were first taken aback by the poor facilities in which she worked. The lab was in a decrepit building. The $300,000 budget barely covered the salaries of the four employees in charge of testing and the case load for each individual tester was very high. Each tester was responsible for testing more than 3,000 samples per year.
The state Attorney General, Martha Coakley, was quick to stop any further investigation into the fake drug testing and it stopped there. Until several attorneys insisted on going further. The lead attorney was Luke Ryan and for most of the next five years he alone would be pursuing a state investigation into how many tests Sonja had faked.
In 2003, Sonja was already an addict and using daily. So she took a job at the Amherst State Drug Testing Lab with the sole intention of stealing drugs to feed her habit. The drug lab has a case of about 50 standards, which are the pure products of what the lab chemists are supposed to test against. From the very beginning of being hired in 2004, Sonja would steal drops of liquid meth from the standards case and put them in her soda. Sometimes she’d put the drops directly in her mouth. She did this from 2004 to 2009, usually up to 12 times a day. She was high every day on the job and while performing every test . Quite often she could not even remember what she’d tested.
In 2009, her boss conducted an audit of the standards. Panicked that he’d discovered she’d used most of the liquid meth, she filled the bottle with water. Water and meth don’t mix so the standard was separated and cloudy. Her boss assumed it was outdated and replaced it. But having been audited once, Sonja decides to branch out into other drugs. She switches to the amphetamine, ketamine, and cocaine standards. Pretty soon she’s run out of the cocaine standard and starts opening large drug samples and putting that cocaine into the standard to replenish it, tainting EVERY TEST PERFORMED BY ANY CHEMIST. Once the standard is compromised, no test with that standard is accurate. It is no longer the pure form.
In 2011, Sonja’s addiction has become so bad that she’s constantly looking for more drugs. She switches to crack and begins making her own crack at her workstation using the lab’s materials and the drug samples that come through the door. She goes to the front desk every morning to see which samples have cocaine and she assigns those samples to herself, something no chemist is supposed to do.
When Sonja is arrested in 2013, the Attorney General Martha Coakley is ordered to hand over all exculpatory evidence. She refuses to hand it over. Assistant Attorney Generals Kris Foster and Anne Kaczmarek intentionally hide papers found in Sonja’s car which prove she was doing drugs on the job from 2004 on.
The defense attorneys in these cases, including Luke Ryan, take the matter to court before Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder. Kris Foster lies to him and tells him that the defense has all of the documents. Kinder believes her and makes the Kinder rule: that Sonja Farak’s drug tests were not impaired until after July 2012. All of the cases that were put into pending because of the fake drug tests are pushed through and all of those innocent people are sent back to jail.
The prosecutors in these cases make a public announcement that the people in these cases were violent habitual drug offenders and part of drug cartels. They weren’t. And when Luke Ryan and other defense attorneys threaten to bring cases before the state because of Sonja’s faked drug tests, the AGO’s office says they will bring in cops to testify that “it looked like” whatever drug.
Sonja is sentenced to only eighteen months in jail. She never confesses to anything. She is never interrogated regarding how many tests she faked.
Eighteen months after Sonja is sent to prison the Attorney General’s office has no more reason to withhold the documents in Sonja’s case. Luke Ryan sees documents listed as “assorted lab paperwork” for the first time. There are numerous logs made for her psychiatrist regarding her addiction and the days she used on the job. One of those days is December 22, 2011, the day she tested one of Luke Ryan’s clients’ drug sample. She took liquid LSD on that day and was completely incoherent. Luke Ryan files a motion to free his client. Attorney General Martha Coakley resigns.
In January 2015, a new Attorney General takes over, Maura Healey. She’s advised to start an investigation into the breadth of Sonja’s crimes. She appoints two judges and two highway patrolmen. These are on the prosecution team, not the defense, so they are not impartial. The highway patrolmen give the Attorney General a three page letter which they refer to as their report. They didn’t investigate anything. They read through a CD of emails between Assistant Attorney General Anne Kaczmarek and Assistant Attorney General Kris Foster calling Luke Ryan names and referring to documents that were illegally kept from the defense, including “mental health worksheets”. When Luke Ryan sees this reference he asks one of the judges for the CD of emails and he gets it. On that CD was the incriminating evidence that showed that the Attorney General’s Office had violated the law repeatedly. They knew Sonja was doing drugs from the very beginning. They knew the standards were compromised and that none of the tests were accurate. They let those innocent people serve their jail sentences without dismissing their cases. They also lied to Judge Kinder which is a crime which usually includes disbarment. Where any of them disbarred? No.
Luke Ryan finally takes the matter to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. They order the AGO to investigate Sonja’s “misconduct”. During previous questioning Sonja pled the fifth amendment, refusing to incriminate herself and refusing to give any information to anyone. So they gave her immunity from prosecution which means she can’t plead the fifth amendment and MUST tell the truth. That’s when the length and breadth of her misconduct and crimes came out.
Judge Richard Carey calls the offenses of Kaczmark and Foster “fraud upon the court”.
With Luke Ryan’s help, the ACLU is able to get more than 35,000 of Sonja’s drug testing cases dismissed. There are no reparations however and this is AFTER they’ve already served their sentences.
Annie Dookhan: Hinton Massachusetts Drug Testing Lab
While Sonja worked in a decrepit building, Annie Dookhan worked in a state-of-the-art testing facility. From the very beginning, Annie completed more drug tests than any other chemist. In fact, she completed a whopping four times as many. What she was doing is called dry-labbing. She would take several drug samples that were supposed to be tested, visually glance at them to make sure they looked similar, then test one of those samples and give those results to all of them. In other words, she never tested those drug samples for which she signed an affidavit that they were positively the drugs in question.
In 2012, one of Annie’s coworkers found a discrepancy in her test results. Annie had declared a drug test positive for heroine when in fact it was table salt. Her coworkers had been reporting her for years for breaking testing protocols but nothing was ever done. On January 18, 2013 she was arrested for faking drug test results.
In a fair world, anything Annie Dookhan tested would be immediately thrown out, but she had worked at the lab for nine years. Attorney General Martha Coakley refused to do that. During the investigation into Annie’s crimes, they discovered a series of personal emails to the prosecutors in which she clearly viewed herself as part of the prosecution team and would do anything to get convictions, including faking test results. She was never neutral and as a drug tester she is required to be neutral. Her emails to the prosecutors were extremely personal, including attempts to date one prosecutor in particular who was married. She lied about her education claiming she had a Harvard advanced degree. She didn’t. She fabricated emails with an attorney Suzanne Sullivan and forwarded them to a district attorney she had a crush on (George Papachristos).
Through a plea bargain Annie is sentenced to three years in prison. But the cases that she had tainted are not dismissed. Those 30,000+ people are still in prison.
The ACLU is able to get 21,839 of Annie Dookhan’s drug testing cases dismissed. But no reparations are made to the innocent people who served time in prison.
Solution: Employee Drug Testing and Protocols
One simple protocol would’ve eliminated the possibility of Sonja working while high at work–employee drug testing in drug test labs.
One simple protocol would’ve eliminated the possibility of Annie faking so many tests–random second tests by a coworker.
10 out of 10 stars. I’ve often heard of how bad crime is in Massachusetts. But it’s not that there’s actually a high crime rate. It’s that prosecutors are putting in jail innocent people.