It has been known for years that prescription and illicit opioids have been killing Americans in increasing numbers. These drugs, in the form of prescription painkillers and street drugs like heroin, are taking lives at an alarming rate. Individuals who would never fit the stereotype of "drug users" are getting addicted, often after obtaining painkillers from medical professionals.
As bleak as the situation already was, an even more powerful drug has become widespread and easily available. The drug is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid about 100 times more powerful than morphine. According to the New York Times, it is now the deadliest drug on Long Island, and will help push the annual overdose death rate (for 2016) above 1,000 for the first time in the city's history.
Some drug dealers and drug users are knowingly selling or seeking out fentanyl. But it is also sometimes laced into heroin and other drugs without the knowledge of those either reselling it or using it. An addiction counselor quoted by the Times said: "We’ve never seen as much of a drug this strong on the black market before. It’s essentially the serial killer of drugs. It’s not something you can use for any kind of duration and survive.”
With the opioid crisis reaching a fever pitch, it will hopefully become clear to all public officials that drug abuse is not simply a criminal justice issue. Rather, it is a public health crisis - an epidemic on its way toward becoming a pandemic.
Although drugs will remain illegal and individuals will continue to be prosecuted for drug-related crimes, incarceration cannot solve this crisis. New York and all other parts of the country need to address America's drug problem holistically, focusing on treatment and support rather than just punishment.
If you or a loved one is facing drug charges, legal help is available. And an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you seek alternatives to prosecution, including addiction treatment. To learn more about our law practice and our approach to helping clients, please visit the drug crimes page on our website.