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Richardson: Without good law enforcement, opioid problem won’t go away

Bill Richardson

What’s missing from the very emotional and public discussion of the ongoing, and growing, problem of opiates is effective and aggressive law enforcement.

No one is talking about the need to go after dealers at all levels, even if they’re addicts selling heroin and other opiates to support their own addiction.

On top of the abuse of the system by pharmaceutical giants, doctors and pharmacists, the selling of heroin, pills and fentanyl at the street level is driving the overdose and crime problem on the streets.

Addicts steal and commit violent crimes to survive. All the talk about treatment, education, data collection and Narcan is all well and good, but what is the city, county and state government doing about arresting the purveyors of the poison where many addicts get the drug that forces them into crime and maybe an early grave?

The Arizona Department of Public Safety’s State Narcotics Division was once the hallmark of a statewide agency that attacked crooked doctors, pharmacists and street dealers. Not anymore! The agency that’s charged with this statewide mission has failed miserably, to say the least. DPS’s failure goes beyond enforcement. DPS’s failure to track and analyze statewide drug crime has hurt everyone. The agency’s failure to provide proper investigative support at the local, including crime lab resources, is near abysmal, to say the least.

At one time, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office also had a first-class narcotics enforcement program that partnered effectively with the Drug Enforcement Administration with a DEA Task Force. While new Sheriff Paul Penzone basks in the lights and talks of reforms, where is his leadership in pulling together all the Valley police agencies and resurrecting the Task Force that brought some semblance of a countywide and coordinated effort to go after street drugs? The sheriff’s job isn’t just treatment. First, you need to get addicts in jail and have a system to control their behavior in order to get them in, and keep them in, treatment.

Local police are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to addict-driven street crime. That means working undercover, buying drugs, dealing with informants and serving search warrants. This is where the danger and the greatest rewards are. When addicts aren’t in jail or submitting to treatment, they’re committing crimes against you and me. It’s that simple. Local police have also failed.

As painful as it sounds, and I understand addiction is an illness, it still requires the police putting addicts in jail. Let the Maricopa County Attorney and Adult Probation sort out the sentence and rehabilitation. That’s not the job of the police!

While the Legislature will no doubt make this a political issue, they need to once again make being under the influence of a narcotic a crime that requires confinement and treatment. It was on the books for years and it worked. Change the narcotics laws like they did the meth laws.

Without good law enforcement the opioid problem will never go away or shrink to any degree.

– Bill Richardson is a retired Mesa police detective.

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