[Each month, the Addiction Legal Resource Team at Penn State’s Dickinson Law recognizes an exceptional individual for their contributions to the addiction treatment community. The individual recognized as Advocate of the Month for the month of December is Harry Matz, senior trial lawyer at the Department of Justice. Mr. Matz has worked at the Department of Justice since 1991 as part of the Criminal Division. His time at the Criminal Division has been at the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section for the entirety of his career, aside from a brief stint at the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia. Before his time at the Department of Justice, he worked for five years as an Assistant Attorney General at the Maryland Office of the Attorney General in the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene and at Melnicove, Kaufman, Weiner & Smouse, P.A as an associate. We are thankful for inspiration from our honored advocates and from Dickinson Law’s Inside Entrepreneurship Blog.]
I sat on the shuttle and watched as the city flew by. Traffic was lighter than usual in the nation’s capital and a ride was always picturesque. The ride passed the Capitol building and museum after museum before eventually depositing me at the imposing limestone façade of the Department of Justice. I checked my belongings as I looked towards the art deco doors. Inside was where I was to interview our December Advocate of the Month, Harry Matz. As I approached, I showed security my identification card at a checkpoint just before the entrance. I walked inside and was buzzed through the cage doors.
Pale sunlight filtered in through the Department of Justice’s windows as I walked down a rose-colored granite hallway. On each side of me were displays of decades of accomplishments by lawyers who had walked those very halls before me. The light was just enough to brighten the antechamber. I walked the halls as I waited for Harry to arrive. My eyes traveled to the ceiling, which was richly decorated with filigreed portraits in the frame of impressive crown molding.
I stepped out into the courtyard and watched the lawyers ferry in and out of the building. They wheeled suitcases and spoke the travel that came with the job. In the windows facing me, department workers were typing away in their offices. Many stood, some sat, but all worked dutifully. It was impressive to see the cogs of a bureaucracy in motion.
Five minutes before the appointed time of the interview, I stepped into the office where Harry and I would meet. The office belonged to Peter Carr, a twelve-year veteran in the department. His job was to oversee interviews and manage public relations for the Criminal Division, even profiles honoring the department employees. He welcomed me into his office. The office was decorated with awards from years past, but the furniture was plain. A mahogany desk topped with dual monitors, a red couch, and three other simple wooden chairs sat in the room already prearranged for the interview. We exchanged brief pleasantries before Harry arrived.
Harry walked in just a few moments later with both coat and sweater. He placed his coat aside and settled on the couch. He had a humorous demeanor with which I was familiar. Harry was well-known for such a demeanor around the office. As we sat down to begin, however, his demeanor shifted to one much more serious.
Harry’s start was in private practice. As a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Harry’s beginnings were all but assuredly a start in private practice, “Private practice was the way to go,” he said, “everything else was window dressing,” He was in a firm for years, but ultimately found the work to be less rewarding with time, “I was around your age and frankly the last thing I wanted to do was spend precious free time hanging around golf courses with guys who are my age now.”
He was a Marylander by birth. His firm was located in Baltimore, just down the street from where he worked after: the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. He found his place at the office as an assistant attorney general for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. His time there was spent working with several administrative boards and in complex administrative litigation over “certificates of need” for health care expansion.
The professional licensing and disciplinary board work was a juggling act, “Board of pharmacists, board of morticians, psychologists, podiatrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, and so forth, at least 10 different professional boards,” he explained and then expanded on his greatest achievements, “Honestly, just keeping the boards from squabbling with each other over their respective scopes of practice and other matters was my biggest achievement,” He laughed a bit. On the complex administrative side, he represented the Staff of the Health Resources Planning Commission. “It was a lot of competing interests. I did do a big case with a hospital once,” He explained, “Maryland has an ‘all-payer system’ for our healthcare…so whenever something happens, everyone is invested. If a hospital was allowed to build a new wing, that was a big deal because the cost would eventually be spread across all payers into the system.”
After five years in the Maryland public space, Harry decided to transition into a federal practice, “I felt that I had done as much as I could in public sector in Maryland and I wanted a bigger stage,” He shrugged, “The natural step looked like the DOJ, being the nation’s litigators, so I figured why not give it a shot,” He reflected on how he came into his position, “My work with the board of pharmacy and also the Maryland Division of Drug Control — which equates to the Diversion Division at the DEA — turned out to really be my “in.” I was able to parlay that into a job.”
At the start, Harry did not choose exactly what his path in the DOJ would be, “You end up specializing in what is needed but not covered at the time you arrive,” he expanded on his own beginnings, “What was really the rage was precursor chemicals…that’s what everyone was focused on. So I became a subject-matter expert in precursor chemicals.”
At the beginning, the work was around the transportation of these chemicals to labs outside the country. He also acted as support for litigation teams across the country, a task which he has continued performing for years. His major victories had been against pharmacies and he assisted in reaping millions of dollars into the government’s coffers from their misconduct.
His expertise had him eventually settle into a policy-oriented position. It was in policy that Harry found himself in the middle of one of the biggest addiction and drug crises in the 21st century, “Then, the meth crisis hit and precursor chemicals became a whole different ball of wax.” It was one of the first times that the drug problem was homegrown. Rooted in neighborhoods, towns and cities across the United States, meth production hit an all-time high. Precursor chemicals in the form of ephedrine became a growing concern. Harry spoke about the enforcement effort, “The thought that a company that made a product that was being diverted to meth labs could be culpable, and the individuals who ran the company, was foreign to judges and juries.”
The answer seemed more and more a question of policy, not enforcement, “I became a subject-matter expert in the regulatory edge of controlled substances. (It’s) where the bad guys and the civil violations happen…where the criminal side interfaces with the law,” Policy answers to the methamphetamine crisis began to form. The push for a policy solution culminated in a legislative series of bills aimed at the issue until Congress arrived at the final product, “There was a chain of laws and regulations. Each one put a dent in the meth problem…the succession of legislation culminated in the CMEA, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act. I’m glad to say I had something to do with that…it changed everything.”
The CMEA created the policy of keeping pseudoephedrine behind drug counters and making people sign at the counter to purchase, “It stopped people from going in and just clearing the shelves.” Harry grinned as he spoke about the process, “Before the more definitive legislation, lobbyists were successful in convincing congressmen that nobody would take the time to pop pills out of blister packs. Within weeks or months, they found homemade presses in labs,” He shook his head, “It took far too long…I shared my belief from early on that we have got to just get this stuff out of open shelves.” He reflected, “Now we have it (the CMEA). I’m sure we’ve saved lives, saved the environment.” His brow raised and he smirked, “I still haven’t gotten an award for that.” He chuckled, “But I have gotten an award for things I played a smaller part in, so it all works out.”
As the question of opioids and precursor chemicals began to pop up, Harry found his own work shifting in kind. The response was collaborative with major players and even entire countries as part of the Fentanyl epidemic, particularly China, “I am and have been the chair of the U.S. side of our annual counter-narcotics working group with China. We talk about, at the working policy level, what our issues are…what do our laws look like, what do your laws look like,” He paused, “We were asking China to control a lot of fentanyls very quickly. Ultimately, to control them as a class.”
Working in collaboration with scientists and other professionals, the group managed to universally schedule fentanyls as a controlled substance, despite fentanyls not being abused in China. Harry spoke on the effort, “It’s made a difference in the U.S. and I am sure elsewhere. There’s no incentive to try and make a fentanyl analogue and try to beat the system in China or here. The next struggle is and will be synthetic opioids that are not fentanyl and we’re already headed there, but that’s something we’ll deal with when we get there.”
As the nation’s largest litigator and prosecutor’s office, the Department of Justice, first and foremost, deals with enforcement. Their role has always been one of disrupting and dismantling dangerous organizations. However, Harry’s policy role is more coalition-building, “At the policy level, (we) advise and build sound policy working across government with interagency partners…we try to build coalition and understanding to develop legislation.”
Truly, his time in Maryland dealing with the squabbles of boards and agencies were just the appetizer before his main course: negotiating efforts on the national and world stage. At a national level, Harry had worked for years with prosecuting attorneys, DEA regulators, and a myriad of others from across the federal sphere to draft effective regulations and legislation. Internationally, Harry had experience consulting with the British Home Office group dealing with designer drugs, working on the G8 Law Enforcement Projects Subgroup to disrupt transnational organized crime, and even working as part of an international group of experts to draft model drug laws for nations worldwide. Harry has truly been a part of the global effort to end drug trafficking.
He chuckled but then his face became a bit more serious, “We’re working the issue…we shine a light on synthetic drugs and synthetic opioid problems; also, (to) get international help with these issues. We cannot do it alone,” he mused on, “Working in policy is like sitting in a coffee shop in Greenwich Village for decades while everyone else travels the world. They see a lot of things at just one level, but we get to see things growing and changing over time until eventually the world’s come to us,” he paused and shrugged, “That’s our niche.”
The hardest part of the job according to Harry is the world simply not seeing things through the lens of a policy expert. He also spoke on the frustration of dealing with the politics of the moment getting in the way of needed action, “Being the person who thinks they’ve figured things out and seeing things years ahead by virtue of seasoning in this kind of thing…trying to avoid the whack-a-mole carnival game and being able to see the future and knowing the practical and political will to address it is not there,” He paused, “I see some problems in the law that I want addressed…but there aren’t easy vehicles for doing so.” He shrugged as he talked about the issue, “But there’s experts in every department, they see the future differently and it’s the interagency dialogue that lets us figure out how all those futures all fit together…I guess the problem is just not being king.”
His favorite part of his job is putting the puzzle together, “Even figuring out what ought to be done when it looks like it’s not going to have legs is interesting,” he paused, “We may have written parts of different bills. It’s interesting to see how it takes shape,” he sighed, “It’s maddeningly frustrating when it [“it” being sensible legislation] doesn’t go there, but that’s just part of being in the trenches.”
Policy work can begin in many different ways, but Harry’s advice on getting into it? Start local: “I’d become an assistant district attorney, get into their drug unit, and work,” The work of local individuals becomes vital. The base level, according to Harry, is where the important understanding begins, “It gets it in your blood. You begin to understand how drugs are trafficked and why…you begin to understand how this world works. You understand the law, then you can begin to get into the policy.”
He also found it important to work with other organizations in the state, “Work with the board of pharmacies. Learn how drugs are regulated in your state,” He paused again and his voice lowered a bit though a faint glimmer flashed in his eye, “It really is fascinating…if I could make a road map of how to get to this job, that’s what I’d do.”
As we concluded, he put his coat and hat back on and we walked out through the rose quartz hallway to the bustling street adjacent the National Mall. He asked if I wanted to try one of the rental scooters by the intersection to get back to the metro. I declined out of fear of hurting myself. He chuckled, “I was just trying to be like one of you millennials. Sometimes the little bit of risk is part of the ride anyway,” He said with a wave before hopping on the shuttle back to his building with a casual wave.
As his shuttle pulled away from the curb, I reflected on the interview and my own ideas of practice. A dream of litigation has the pull of theatrics and drama of a courtroom. However, the more I mulled over the interview, the more I was impressed with his advice to law students looking to become involved in these matters: start local. In order to begin effectively addressing the complex contours of the drug problem in this country, the grassroots work must be the foundation of change.
I continued towards the metro. From the corner of my eye I saw the peak of the Washington Monument peeking over the museums wrapped in a halo of sunlight. I decided to take a detour by the mall. I looked down the lawn and spied the various monuments on and along the mall. Each monument honored a different era and figure in the American tradition with grand structures and ivory-colored stone, stark against green grass and blue sky. I began to feel inspired by Harry for my own work in the next era. As I continued my detour across the mall to find the closest metro stop, I wished I had brought my sunglasses.