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Locking Up Heroin Users Solves No Problem

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The opioid epidemic is leading to prosecutors seeking to throw everyone in prison. All this did during the crack epidemic is destroy black communities and radically increase the nation’s prison population at an enormous cost to taxpayers. It will be no different this time around, except for the possibility that more people will care since this so many opioid users and thus opioid prisoners are white.

After Daniel Eckhardt’s corpse was found on the side of a road in Hamilton County, Ohio, last year, police determined he died of a heroin overdose.

Not long ago, law enforcement’s involvement would have ended there. But amid a national opioid-addiction crisis fueling an unprecedented wave of overdose deaths, the investigation was just beginning.

Detectives interrogated witnesses and obtained search warrants in an effort to hold someone accountable for Mr. Eckhardt’s death. The prosecutor for Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and its suburbs, charged three of Mr. Eckhardt’s companions, including his ex-wife and her boyfriend, with crimes including involuntary manslaughter, an offense carrying a maximum prison sentence of 11 years.

Mr. Eckhardt voluntarily took the heroin that killed him, but prosecutors alleged the trio were culpable because they bought and used heroin with him that they knew could result in death.

The indictments were part of a nationwide push to investigate overdose deaths as homicides and seek tough prison sentences against drug dealers and others deemed responsible. It’s an aggressive tactic law-enforcement officials say they’re using in a desperate attempt to stanch the rising tide of overdose deaths.

But in courtrooms around the country, prosecutors are also sweeping up low-level dealers who are addicts trying to support their habit, as well as friends and family members of overdose victims who bought or shared drugs with the deceased. Some critics of the prosecution tactic say these users need treatment, not harsh prison sentences.

Critics see the prosecutions as more of the same drug-war tactics that have filled America’s prisons with nonviolent criminals but done little to stop illicit drug use. There’s scant evidence that fear of prison deters addicts from using, and for every dealer put behind bars, another is ready to take his place, says Lindsay LaSalle, an attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance.

This is a terrible, terrible idea. I don’t have any great solutions to heroin abuse. No one does. But I can say that mass incarceration is counterproductive and community crushing.

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