Enhance Penalties For Drug Crimes

Drug abuse by itself takes too many lives and plunges others into chaos. But crimes related to it – addicts stealing money to get a fix or gunfights among pushers – often take innocent lives.

Thank heaven that didn’t happen in Wheeling during the weekend. The potential for violence was very real.

As we have reported, a man brandishing a pistol robbed a Warwood pharmacy Sunday afternoon. He escaped with about 3,400 pills from behind the prescription drug counter. The perpetrator, considered armed and dangerous, was still at large today.

Ironically, crackdowns on sales of prescription drugs, often painkillers or substances from which methamphetamines can be produced, may be contributing to the potential for violence. It is becoming much more difficult to obtain medicines used illegally by strolling into a drug store and buying them, perhaps with a prescription that has been forged or written by an unscrupulous health care provider.

Because that source of prescription drugs is less available, some addicts – and those eager to profit by selling pills to them – may find burglary or robbery an attractive alternative.

West Virginia is ground zero in the fight against prescription drug abuse, in many ways. During some years, we lead the nation in the number of drug overdose deaths. In 2008, more

West Virginians died from overdoses than from vehicle crashes.

State officials were right to enact restrictions on the availability of some prescription drugs.

Again, that may be leading to a new concern about crime related to addicts’ overwhelming need to feed their habits.

Perhaps state legislators should review criminal statutes with a view to deterring such crime. Existing laws against offenses such as burglary and robbery could be augmented with “aggravated” clauses for situations when drugs are criminals’ targets. Stiffer penalties could be established.

Would that help? Perhaps not, again given the fact many such crimes are committed by addicts who pay little or no attention to deterrent laws.

It couldn’t hurt, though. For that reason, lawmakers should consider enhanced penalties for crimes such as that in Warwood during the weekend.