“We cannot arrest ourselves out of this epidemic.” The words come from former DEA Supervisory Special Agent, Jack Teitelman. Staring across the table with piercing blue eyes and his post-DEA partner, Travis the Pomapoo, Teitelman takes on an elaborate identity of his own – a fearsome operator who prefers the trenches, with a kind soul and heart of gold.
If DEA agents were a monument of law enforcement ascetics, Teitelman is the cornerstone. In his 26 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Teitelman worked all facets of complex cases and criminal investigations. Drug lords, mob bosses, and international conspiracy were just part of the job for Teitelman. “Danger and life threatening situations came with the territory,” he adds. “At any given moment, you could be 30 seconds out.”
Teitelman grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, the eldest of four children, in a lower middle-class Jewish family. His father was a civil servant, and his mother, although trained as a nurse, was a homemaker. “It was the deep south,” Teitelman recalls. “At one point, Jacksonville was actually called Cow Ford. It was a sleepy redneck town located between the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean.”
He spent his early years in Jacksonville seeking out adventure. “I certainly did not lead a risk adverse life,” Teitelman notes with a laugh. “I may have been biologically programmed for danger. I performed X-Games worthy stunts before the X-Games existed. Whether it was surfing with sharks, knee boarding with alligators or taking fastballs on the field, I was always living on the edge.”
Being drawn to death-defying situations is eventually what led Teitelman to law enforcement. “When the time came to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I thought: ‘what can I do that will allow me to chase nonstop adventure and an adrenaline rush?’ Criminal justice seemed like the best option.”
While attending the University of Northern Florida, Teitelman started an internship with the U.S. Probation Office where he was introduced to various federal law enforcement agencies. “It was the 1980s’ when the DEA was at the height of its glory,” states Teitelman. “DEA agents were constantly making headlines for catching the ‘baddest’ of the bad guys. It was all of the excitement I was looking for.”
Teitelman entered the DEA in 1988. The stories are endless,” Teitelman says with a chuckle as he recalls his first case.
“I’ll never forget my first mission. I had been in New York City for one night when I was placed on my first undercover case. It was an organized crime case involving a Middle Eastern heroine regime. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” he laughs. “Immediately upon meeting up with our suspects we flashed the money in the back of the car. You’re never supposed to show the money! We then made our second mistake by going inside. Shortly thereafter five or six guys we had never met show up, my partner goes back out to the car to get something, and I’m now an unrecognizable agent alone on the inside with a bunch of criminals. Somehow the signals got screwed up and the arrest team hits the location while I’m still inside. Next thing I know, the guy next to me whips out a machete. I pull my gun and the door blasts open. There I was, gun drawn next to a guy holding a machete facing off with agents who’ve never seen me before. I came face to face with a gun barrel to my head and somehow avoided getting shot.”
“By the time I got to my second case I was viewing things differently,” says Teitelman. “You rethink everything when things hit closer to home.” Three weeks later, the dangers of working as an agent for the DEA became a brutal reality when Teitelman saw his senior agent, Everett Hatcher, gunned down on Staten Island after being lured by a Mafia drug dealer. “The Gus Farace case,” Teitelman recalls. “It was just supposed to be a meeting. We were in an unknown area without enough guys, and at the time all we had were pagers. Surveillance lost him and there was no GPS backup. By the time we found him, he had a bullet in his head.”
Like so many Americans, Teitelman has been personally touched by the opioids crisis. “I had never been a “drug user,” he states. “However, after a sports injury I was put on a collision course with opioids. Although my initial introduction was post-surgical and short-lived, my re-introduction came when my back gave out in 2007, and I was given the “panacea for pain” - a blue pill stamped OP 80 - OxyContin.”
According to the CDC, about 91 people now die from opioid overdoses every day, a conservative estimate—thanks to a potent mix of stigmas, addictions, lack of awareness and inadequate access to care and prevention.
“At first, I thought OxyContin was the pharmaceutical industry’s greatest invention. I had been an invalid, and could now perform daily activities and pass my DEA physicals. But, the initial relief didn’t last long. Soon, the pain came back with a vengeance and I was “titrated” up to 360mgs of OxyContin a day. To give you an idea, one 80mg OxyContin is the equivalent of eight 10mg Percocet. Most individuals are half out of their mind after taking one Percocet, let alone eight. My pain therapy eventually turned into a nine-day and eleven-hour hospital stay for a reconstructed lower back, and 18 months of attempting to stop taking OxyContin and return my dopamine receptors back to normal.”
“The life of a DEA agent is not always a black and white, easy pill to swallow,” notes Teitelman. “I was always conflicted with marijuana. I knew it wasn’t a problem like other drugs, but it was part of the job and no one in the DEA was openly for it.”
“When you work for a federal agency such as the DEA, you are confronted with questions like, ‘is that who I am?’ only to ask yourself, ‘am I able to do this for them?’ Reconciling between the two is the hardest part, and to a certain extent, I feel bad about some of the arrests I’ve made,” he adds, “particularly when it comes to marijuana. It was a paradox for me because I had pledged to uphold the drug laws of the United States, and cannabis use was strictly forbidden by the DEA.
Upon retiring from the DEA, Teitelman was finally free to explore the medicinal value of cannabis. “Cannabis doesn’t have the ‘collateral damage’ — like addiction and overdose — that other drugs do,” he states. “Not only does it relieve pain, it has a life-saving benefit.”
Being on the front lines of drug law enforcement eventually paved a new path for Teitelman. “I have always been driven to fix things,” notes Teitelman. “I never felt that merely arresting someone fixed the problem because it never addressed the underlying social issues.”
“My true passion has always been for people,” notes Teitelman. “I can connect with a stranger just as easily as I connect with someone who lives on my street. That is where my true super power lies. I sympathize and empathize with people regardless of race, religion or culture.”
Reflecting on his time with the DEA, Teitelman, notes that, “Investigations were part of every case that we worked. Through the investigation process underlying social issues would come out and my social responsibility component to fix things would emerge.”
Upon retiring from the DEA, Teitelman shifted his focus from law enforcement to a different approach. “My career has been the natural progression of a lifelong fixer,” notes Teitelman. “I went from fixing things by force to realizing that we have a greater opportunity to continue the mission of drug control by fixing things through education-based prevention.”
A desire to continue “fixing” through education eventually led Teitelman to found the TITAN Group, a full-service DEA compliance and risk mitigation firm focused on educating and protecting companies that handle controlled substances. “Every company buying, administering, dispensing or transporting controlled substances is at risk for theft,” Teitelman explained. 26 years of experience in domestic and international drug investigations has afforded Teitelman the ability to help businesses by preventing drug diversion before it happens, and in the cases where it already has, to mitigate the situation before further damage ensues.
“It’s about proactively working to protect people,” Teitelman states. “Just as I have been able to help healthcare providers by sharing three decades of knowledge on DEA compliance and regulation, I now have an opportunity to help the cannabis industry.”
Teitelman took the opportunity to jumpstart assistance for the cannabis industry at the CannabisLearn Conference and Expo, held in Philadelphia, PA April 30th - May 2nd. Teitelman keynoted during the conference concerning pain points and proactive solutions surrounding drug diversion, security and compliance for cannabis operations.
“Teaching companies how to operate responsibly and in compliance with the law benefits everyone. Controlled substances are controlled substances. What TITAN Group hopes to do is apply lessons learned and implement them into the emerging cannabis space,” notes Teitelman regarding his contribution to CannabisLearn.
What advice does Teitelman offer to companies that handle controlled substances? “Don't wait to find out if you’re at risk,” he exclaims. “If you’re thinking about it…it’s probably already too late. Be proactive. Have a plan.”
“Ultimately, everything that I do ties back to social responsibility and my desire to fix things,” Teitelman reiterates. “Educating has always been a priority of mine. Theft of controlled substances is causing people to die and most controlled substances are obtained through internal theft. If we educate business owners on how to prevent theft before it happens, we lessen the likelihood of those drugs hitting the streets. Humans are humans, and we are losing them.”