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Editorial: Drug dealers must be held accountable, but helping addicts quit is vital

It was a day like any other, sadly enough. A man identified only as J.P. died of an opioid overdose. When he was found, the needle was still stuck in his arm.

In this case, as in some others, the person suspected of selling the drug, which was spiked with the deadly synthetic, fentanyl, was arrested. Maria K. Mestre is accused of the sale but not the death, although it could result in a more severe sentence, if she is convicted.

Tracking down the dealers who profit from the national opioid crisis is not only appropriate, but essential. Someone dies of an overdose about once a day in Erie County and many of those souls were led innocently into addiction through painkillers prescribed by their doctors. Once their prescriptions run out, those people frequently turn to chemically similar heroin to feed the craving that torments them.

We don’t know at this point if that was the path that led J.P. to his early death, but we know that someone had been providing him a drug capable of killing him. That person needs to be help accountable.

But no one should be relieved by Mestre’s arrest. If prosecuting and imprisoning drug dealers were the answer to drug addiction, the country wouldn’t be suffering as it is today. The war on drugs was an expensive failure.

To be effective, the country needs to target – and by that, we mean help – the users who have been drawn into debilitating addictions that have upended their lives and torn at the fabric of their neighborhoods. That’s a harder task than arresting some dealers, but it’s necessary.

Erie County is taking that approach in several ways, including the creation of a new opioid court. Doctors, pharmaceutical companies, counselors and others will also need to work in concert to treat those who are already addicted and to prevent the creation of new victims.

Otherwise, the body count will continue apace.

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