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By Mike Hudson

Down at the Pizza Oven on Niagara Street, the crew behind the counter had but one question. Why hadn't the Reporter done anything on Dr. Pravin Mehta, the respected, 74-year old Main Street physician whose quiet office had been raided by a platoon of balaclava-wearing, assault rifle toting storm troopers working for various branches of the federal, state and local governments here.

It was a funny thing. The morning of the raid, I was on my way to lunch with former city building commissioner Guy Bax, who is in my view yet another casualty in the crazy war against older gentlemen being waged by some in law enforcement here. In a city where rape, robbery, murder and arson run rampant, these "protectors of society" would rather go after guys who meet you at the door wearing slippers and a comfortable robe.

When I got to the intersection of Third and Main I saw them, six or eight men, dressed all in black, face masks pulled down, bulletproof vests bulking out their upper bodies and trigger fingers ready to spring into action, suspiciously eying each passing car.

There wasn't a doubt in my mind that provoking a shooting incident wouldn't have required too much effort on my part.

Dr. Mehta had been a physician here for 40 years prior to his overblown arrest, which immediately created problems through the city. Officials at Niagara Falls Memorial Center told me of an influx of around 200 patients in the days immediately following the raid. While some of these were so dependent on the drugs Mehta prescribed they were in danger of life threatening seizure from withdrawal, others were people with serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, who suddenly had their supply of insulin or other lifesaving medicine taken away.

Police presence at the hospital was beefed up, and pharmacies throughout the city were forced to hire pistol-licensed security guards to protect against the very real and perhaps violent crime wave Police Superintendent John Chella told the daily papers was likely to ensue.

In a city where the police department has been undermanned since the Galie administration, the shutting down of Mehta's office stretched things to the breaking point, putting honest, law-abiding citizens here further at risk.

I don't use drugs myself, and haven't in quite a number of years. There are quite enough bad habits one can acquire without the assistance of cocaine, marijuana or hydrocodone.

That said, the drug laws in this country are loopy. Society approves substances for use, then dictates who can use them and who cannot, then arrests the proscribed people for using them. This creates wholly invented social stratum of criminals, which is why the United States today has a greater percentage of its population in prison than any other country of the face of the earth, save China, a totalitarian regime.

Trillions of dollars have been thrown away since 1969, when President Richard Nixon announced his "War on Drugs," arguably the most failed government program since Prohibition. Untold death, destruction and human misery have resulted, less by the misuse of controlled substances than by our government's hamhanded attempts to control it. And in the tough economic times we now face, making drugs legally available to the adult population and taxing them like any other consumer product would go a long way, in a nation seemingly obsessed by drugs, to closing budget gaps in many states and on a federal level.

Just thinking about the stupidity of it all makes you want to take drugs.

As for Dr. Mehta, I personally don't see how they can get a conviction. Who's to say, in writing his various prescriptions, whether he thought the person who'd come into his office was actually suffering pain or was faking it in order to get a script for Demerol he or she would then go out and sell on the street?

At that point it becomes a matter of judgment, and the last time I checked, misjudgment like that wasn't against the law.

Passing his office and the platoon on guard outside that day, I proceeded up Main Street to the detour that's been there, I think, for three years. I took the detour, got lost again, and eventually found my way to my meeting with Guy Bax. There was a big platter of cold cuts from Latina's on the table, and the morning had been traumatic enough that I accepted a glass of scotch when he offered it.

Guy makes excellent chili, and we enjoyed it while watching television coverage of the raid on Dr. Mehta's office. Over and over again they showed footage of the doctor being led from the building, as well as of the strike force and their machine guns. If it wasn't for the snow, and the fact that the backs of their jackets were stenciled "DEA" or "POLICE," they could have passed for the federales now so common on the streets of impoverished Mexican cities.

"They want to fight so bad, they should go to Afghanistan," Guy said, and I laughed.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Feb. 8, 2011