Local Editorials

With drugs, is jail best?

Heroin is a scourge. Heroin peddlers are criminals and should be treated as such. And while heroin users are criminals, too, they need treatment.

Sadly, heroin long has been a problem in McHenry County – a surprise to some. And it’s getting worse. Heroin overdose deaths continue to rise significantly. There have been five in McHenry County this year and 12 heroin overdose deaths in 2010. McHenry County Coroner Marlene Lantz, local police and substance abuse counselors are keenly aware.

There’s little doubt that the deaths are at least part of the motivation behind a heroin sweep conducted last week by the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department. It’s understandable. Arresting drug offenders is what police do. That’s what is within their authority to do.

But it appears that the general trend remains that users from McHenry County drive to Chicago and elsewhere to buy heroin from dealers and use relatively small if sometimes deadly amounts themselves and sell them to their friends and acquaintances. Fortunately, high-level heroin dealing doesn’t seem to be a significant local problem so far.

That’s why enforcement is important. But when addicts spend their lives in and out of jail cells on possession charges, it doesn’t have much long-term impact.

The new McHenry County Drug Court, scheduled to begin in December, is definitely a step in the right direction. Mental Health Court already is a proven success. Unlike people with mental illness, who did nothing to deserve their symptoms, drug addicts have taken dangerous steps and put themselves in their position.

But both addiction and mental illness are social problems that need to be treated differently. Standard criminal procedures are ineffective. More contacts with counselors and probation officers, and putting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the addict gives both society and the addict a better chance.

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