Editorial: Symptoms of a larger problem

In the space of a week, Greenfield’s downtown has seen three armed robberies of convenience stores — cases in which masked and hooded young men, apparently armed with handguns, demanded the cash in the till and made a quick getaway.

We’ve seen these kinds of bandits before, and while this particular rash is far from solved at this writing, it looks like many of the robberies and burglaries we’ve seen recent times, often perpetrated, sadly, by addicts desperate for cash to buy their next fix, their lives hijacked by opiate addiction that has become far too widespread in the nation and locally.

While we are eager for the police to catch the newest convenience store bandits, catching and jailing them won’t be the end of the story, if drugs were in fact the driving force.

As a society, we have to continue the difficult and unglamorous job of curing the addiction problem, which science and policy makers increasingly are seeing as a medical, not a moral problem. Researchers will tell you that opiates like prescription painkillers and their chemical cousin heroin hijack the brains of users.

A group of prominent local leaders in politics, legal circles and social service agencies has begun meeting to address the regional proliferation of heroin and the abuse of chemically related prescription painkillers.

The Opiate Abuse Task Force began to take shape this summer through the efforts of Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan and others.

The focus of discussion is what to do in the face of a problem seemingly immune to existing solutions.

During one meeting, Jail Superintendent David Lanoie asked “If you can’t punish enough to deter, what’s the solution?”

Merrigan estimated 80 to 90 percent of cases coming through the court are drug-related, and even more of the petty crime listed in the police logs.

“It’s a community problem and I think there’s a community solution,” Sullivan said, pointing to the planned 25-bed women’s addiction treatment center in Greenfield as representative of a sea-change in attitudes to addiction.

We hope he’s right. But if there is a shift coming in public perception and policy priorities on addiction, it’s coming too slowly.

Just ask the broke and desperate addicts whose lives are measured in increasingly short periods between fixes, who resort to armed robbery to feed a destructive sickness, and who inevitably wind up sitting in a cell — or lying dead in a morgue.

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