Prosecutor: Treat Drug Addicts, Punish Drug Dealers

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Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment and Prevention held its second of three meetings on Thursday afternoon. Speaking as an expert on drug enforcement strategies, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann urged the task force to recommend various tweaks and changes to the drug-related portions of the state’s criminal code. Hermann also recommended that drug addicts be treated and drug dealers be punished.

Speaking for more than an hour at Carter Hall on the University of Southern Indiana campus,  Hermann outlined and detailed the numerous strategies and drug treatment programs the prosecutor’s office offers. The county prosecutor, who also has a degree in chemistry, told the task force that domestic meth production continues to spread statewide. Because it’s no longer just a regional issue, Hermann hopes there will be increased support for making pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in making meth, prescription only.

“We’ve tried different things,” Hermann said. “The argument against this is: well, it’s harder for people to get medicine. It’s more difficult for somebody that is sick. There are literally hundreds of other drugs out there who can help you if you have nasal problems.”

Over the last several years, there have been repeated attempts to make pseudoephedrine prescription only. Those attempts have continuously failed at the General Assembly, largely due to concerns that such a law would negatively impact innocent citizens.

However, in recent years, there have been numerous laws passed which make it harder to buy psuedoephedrine. The drug has been put back behind the pharmacy counter and there are greater restrictions on the amount of pseudoephedrine someone can buy per month.

These laws, coupled with increased enforcement efforts locally, have factored into the reduction of meth lab incidents reported in Vanderburgh County. However, the drop-off in the number of meth lab incidents has coincided with a dramatic rise in the amount of cheaper, Mexican-made crystal meth seized  by area law enforcement.

“In 2011, we seized 516 grams of methamphetamine,” Hermann said. “In 2014, we seized 27,786 grams, an increase of over 5000 percent.”

In recent years, the amount of heroin seized by Vanderburgh County law enforcement officers has also risen dramatically. In 2012, law enforcement seized 36 grams of heroin. In 2014, law enforcement seized 450 grams, an increase of more than 1000 percent, Hermann said.

Hermann also recommended changes and tweaks to the state’s criminal code which was recently re-written. The purpose for the re-write was to lessen the punishment of low-level drug offenses while increasing the penalties of violent crimes like rape and murder. Another motivation for the re-write was to ease prison overcrowding.

However, Hermann said the new sentencing reform has had the opposite effect. People convicted of low level felonies, including Level 5 and Level 6 felonies, are not longer sent to a state prison facility. They are now housed at county jails.

Hermann also questioned whether the law was serving as a deterrent.

“If you’re involved a drug crime, your entire sentence, no matter what you did, can be suspended,” Hermann said. “The certainty that you are going to face any time is not there. Our drug laws are not a deterrent to that type of activity.”

Hermann also pointed out changes to some of the enhancement statutes that he would like to see changed. For example, under the old system, an offender’s charges could be enhanced if the offender was dealing drugs within 1000 feet of a school, multi-family housing complex or a youth facility.

Multi-family housing complexes and youth facilities were removed from the statute under the new system. The 1000 foot buffer has also been reduced to 500 feet.

There have been five meth-related fires in multi-family housing complexes in the last couple of years, Hermann said.

While he urged the task force to make some laws tougher, he also stressed the importance of drug treatment programs. Addicts and dealers need to be treated differently, Hermann said. In Vanderburgh County, the prosecutor’s office offers pre-trial diversion programs as well as a highly-praised drug court program.

The prosecutor’s office also uses technology, including at-home drug testing and welfare checks, for drug offenders.

“It may not solve it but it gets us to that point where we have to decide: are you a criminal or do you have a medical condition? That’s really the blur here,” Hermann said. “You have people who are addicted and have a substance abuse problem. Those people have a problem and they have to change. But at some point, we have to treat that as a crime. If you are someone who is trafficking pounds of methamphetamine into our community, we need to put you away.”

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