By Staff Writer
When a man recently broke into a local pawn shop to steal jewelry, cash and guns, he wasn’t looking for a quick way to pay his rent or put food on the table for his family. He was looking for a way to feed his drug habit, according to WVIR-TV News.
After making off with more than $30,000 worth of jewelry, handguns and cash, the alleged thief drove to several large cities along the East Coast to reportedly sell the gems and trade the guns to drug dealers for heroin. The news source reports that he recently pled guilty to a range of charges stemming from the event.
“In order to feed his own addiction, [the accused criminal] put the lives of others at risk by placing stolen handguns in the hands of drug dealers,” U.S. attorney Timothy Heaphy told the news source. “While addiction is a serious public health matter, this office must hold those who break the law to obtain drugs accountable for their actions.”
While the anecdote is an extreme example of the lengths to which people will go to finance their drug habits, it is not unique. All across the country, law enforcement officials are reporting increases in drug-related crime. Some experts say that the problem highlights the need to make therapy from addiction treatment centers more accessible to individuals who are struggling with chemical dependency.
Addiction to prescription pain medication has become one of the most common causes of drug-related crimes. The New York Times recently reported on a number of crimes committed across the country by individuals who were seeking pills.
“We’re seeing people desperately and aggressively trying to get their hands on these pills,” Janet T. Mills, an attorney general in the Northeast, told the news source. “Home invasions, robberies, assaults, homicides, thefts – all kinds of crimes are being linked to prescription drugs.”
However, law enforcement officials aren’t treating drug-related crimes the same as other offenses. Many agencies have realized that the factors that lead drug users to commit crimes are often different than the motives of other criminals. This has led to a range of programs that seek to eliminate addiction rather than to punish the addict.
For example, a state in the Southeast recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of a program that puts nonviolent drug offenders into addiction treatment rather than sending them to jail, the Tennessean reports.
The initiative, which has become known as Drug Court, places participants into a two-year program in which they receive counseling on quitting their habits and staying drug-free as well as classes that teach them life skills to ease the transition back to a normal life. Officials said that the focus is on helping individuals become productive members of the community, which can be more effective than sending them to jail.
“The program promotes responsibility and accountability and teaches participants to become productive citizens in the community,” said district attorney general Dan Alsobrooks, as quoted by the news source. “The drug court program is an alternative to incarceration and integrates chemical dependency treatment and community resources with the criminal justice system.”
Other programs are working to stamp out addiction before it can even occur. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is currently organizing drug take-back events across the country. By allowing individuals to bring their unwanted medications for safe disposal, the agency hopes to curb the rising rates of addiction to pain pills.
Agency officials said that they hope events such as these will help to make it harder for individuals to abuse drugs, and eliminate much of the crime that is associated with the abuse of medications.