Heroin sentencing offers big lessons

The sentencing of an Akron man Monday in federal court in Huntington for distribution of a particularly potent form of heroin in August points out much about the heroin epidemic.

First, it is interstate in character.

It doesn’t matter if the link is between two cities connected by a single interstate in adjoining states or a run from a major midwestern city to the Ohio Valley, heroin moves along its clandestine distribution networks, from distributor to marketplace.

Second, the dangers cannot be overstated. The statistics are clear: 818 people died of drug overdoses in 2016, and at least one opioid was involved in 86 percent of those deaths. In Ohio, the estimate is more than 200,000 people on the state’s expanded Medicaid system are in drug treatment and mental health programs. With opioid prescription stepping in, the addicted are turning to heroin as a cheaper, readily available alternative. The marketplace is ready for the distributors.

Third, the users of heroin are desperate enough that they will put drugs into their body despite not knowing the origin or manufacture of the substance.

The stuff being sold on the streets of Huntington by Burton Lamar “Benz” Griggs on his trip from Akron was pink, different from its usual white or light brown color. It was mixed with the overly potent drug fentanyl, an elephant sedative. Within six hours, 26 overdoses were reported.

Griggs tried to apologize to Huntington, which brings us to a final point: Human life cannot be wasted and set aside with an apology by someone whose sole purpose is to make money. We are not just referring to Griggs but to anyone who makes money off the misery of people whose lives are lived out of a sack of heroin, sold for less than $100, the price of the user’s life.

It is important that states and cities and the federal government continue to crack down on people who run from city to city and region to region to sell heroin. It is more important to pay attention to the provision of ample services to the addicted and to stop addiction from being so widespread. It is why halting the over-prescribing of opioids is important at keeping people from entering the drug marketplace.

Cut the market, and the business dries up. But for those whose lives are cut short, whose families and friends and co-workers suffer from the impact of addiction — it isn’t just the user who ends up hurting — the 18 years Griggs faces in prison aren’t enough.

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