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Are drug crimes a gateway to more serious criminal offenses?

A growing epidemic of low-cost heroin abuse has led to a surge in all types of felony charges in Madison County. A surge of 41 percent over the previous year established a record of 2,681 in 2016.

Drug crimes leading to more serious criminal activity also means an increased workload for police and courts combined. Addicts who need fast cash to buy more illegal narcotics are committing robbery, theft, burglary, property crimes and other offenses. Meanwhile jails are plagued with significant overcrowding.

In their annual report compiling data from 2014 to 2016, the Madison County Sheriff's Department warns of what they deem an intractable public health crisis. They cite the alarming rise in the use of heroin over the past few years combined with continuing abuses of methamphetamine and prescription drugs.

Possession of all controlled substances and classes of illegal drugs and paraphernalia (including syringes) increased 70.3 percent. Specific data includes:

  • Level 6 felony possession of a syringe rising 274.3 percent
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia (mostly misdemeanors) growing 164.3 percent
  • Possession of methamphetamine increasing 407.5 percent

The most troubling aspect of the report details high- level criminals bringing death and destruction to communities. Fatal drug overdoses killed 231 Madison County residents.

Some cite the criminal justice reform program passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2014 that reduced penalties for drug possession and use. Additional measures implemented two years ago reduced sanctions for drug dealers.

Getting tough on dealers and providing treatment for addicts may take the form of proposed legislation. The objective is to not only restore serious criminal penalties for convicted drug distributors, but also provide necessary funding for treatment programs.

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