Getting pushers off the streets

Heroin abuse has become a plague in Ohio, taking many lives and ruining many others. Yet the smart drug pusher can minimize his chances of going to prison – even if he is caught in the act.

Prison overcrowding in Ohio a few years ago was reacted to in various ways. One of them was a change in criminal sentencing rules, intended to reduce the number of people being sent to prisons.

In most cases, judges are required to avoid sending first-time offenders convicted of non-violent crimes to prison. Probation is preferred for them.

But that provides something of a loophole for pushers cautious enough to limit their heroin trafficking to relatively small sales. They can be arrested for selling nearly $1,000 worth of heroin and never spend a day in prison.

Some state legislators want to change that. They want to stiffen sentencing laws for drug offenses to send more heroin dealers to prison. Many law enforcement officials support the change.

As Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has pointed out, Buckeye State residents who believe drug abuse is not a problem in their communities are deluding themselves.

In some East Ohio communities, very few people are under any illusions. Jefferson County has one of the worst drug problems in the state, at least in terms of overdose deaths.

According to a report released earlier this year, Jefferson County had the fourth worst drug overdose death rate in the state, at 23.9 per 100,000 residents from 2007-12.

During those five years, 98 drug overdose deaths were recorded in the county. In Columbiana County, 67 deaths were reported including 35 combined in years 2011 and 2012.

Elsewhere, Mahoning County had 247 overdose deaths in the same period, Tuscarawas County 36, and Carroll County had 13.

Those are only the deaths reported to the authorities – and they do not include anything after 2012.

Clearly, much more needs to be done to battle drug abuse in Ohio. Sending more pushers -more people murdering with drugs – to prison would be a good start. Legislators should alter the sentencing rules.