Prosecutor column: Drugs not victimless crime


It seems like the drug crisis in Ohio is in the news every day. From how many people are addicted to how many have overdosed and which drugs are the most prevalent, the topics and dangers surrounding drugs seem never ending.

Something that’s not always talked about are the victims of drug use, and I’m not talking about the users.

From newborns to centenarians, the opioid/heroin epidemic is creating a class of victims that this county, this state, this country has never seen.

In 2009 researchers at the University of Michigan found about one baby was born every hour addicted to opiate drugs in the United States. In 2012 it was one baby every 25 minutes.

The Ohio Department of Health estimates about 84 infants a day were treated for drug withdrawal in 2015, costing more that $133 million. We see the cost and think it’s terrible. It is, but the more troubling cost is the reality these babies face. They are in pain, experiencing withdrawal.

That pain can cause a high-pitched cry that goes on for hours. They may be stressed and inconsolable, possibly suffering from breathing, sleeping, and feeding problems. Other symptoms include low birth weight, hyperactive reflexes, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, fever, seizures and more. Doctors cannot yet tell us what the future holds for these most innocent victims, and that’s just the beginning.

When you add the toddlers and young children living in filthy homes without adequate food and heat, the number of victims rises dramatically. Many Ohio counties are running out of space in the foster care system as a result.

We’ve all read stories about children found with overdosed parents, grandparents, or caregivers, having gone without food or water for days. Remember the two-year-old who tearfully tried to “wake up” her overdosed mommy in a store? Victimless crime? I say no.

What about the family members who have seen their loved ones transform? Previously vibrant and loving, the addict now cares only about getting their pill, their fix, their snort. Their family members have poured thousands of hours of care, comfort, and money into trying to “fix” their son, daughter, brother, sister, mother or father because regardless of the addiction, they hope to find the person they once knew.

These families have seen precious personal treasures stolen because the addict cannot work and needs drug money. There are no boundaries. Precious mementos are pawned or traded. A treasured family heirloom brings $25, or to an addict, about three doses of heroin.

The battle rages on. Family members, young and old, are fighting with credit agencies after their drug-addicted loved one has “stolen their identity,” opening credit cards in their name, stealing and cashing forged checks to fund their habit. Victimless crime? I say no.

How about the neighbors or citizens of whatever community the addict decides to terrorize? The addict doesn’t think that way though. When they break into a home to steal, all they are thinking about is the next fix, the next pill, stopping the horrible physical sickness.

What about retailers and small business owners? Addicts will steal anything to get money. Sometimes it’s items the drug dealer requests; sometimes its products the addict can trade or sell on the street.

Meantime, stores have to recoup this cost, beef up security, and that cost passes to you.

Taking it a step further, the community at large pays in other ways, ways that cannot be made whole with raised prices or added security. I’m talking about when an addict chooses to get behind the wheel, a danger that can seriously injure or kill others.

The 2014 National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that 10 million people ages 12 or older admitted driving under the influence of “illicit drugs,” a category that includes marijuana, heroin, cocaine, tranquilizers and “misuse of prescription medications.”

Remember the picture of the Lexington grandmother whose boyfriend overdosed as he was driving with the four-year-old grandson in the backseat? Victimless crime? I say no.

Finally, let’s talk about the addicts themselves. This year on average Columbus has had one fatal overdose per day from fentanyl – a powerful painkiller that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says is 25 to 50 times more powerful than heroin and packs 50 to 100 times more punch than morphine.

Coroners in four Ohio counties were forced to bring in “cold storage mass casualty trailers” for corpses because they ran out of room in the morgues. Those that have overdosed leave behind grieving families, parentless children, loved ones that cannot understand how this happened.

I’ve been a prosecutor a long time, and people have told me hundreds (if not thousands of times) drugs are a victimless crime. I don’t buy it.

Carol O’Brien

Guest Columnist

Carol O’Brien is Delaware County Prosecutor.

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