For decades now, the so-called "war on drugs" has allowed state and federal law enforcement agencies to be particularly aggressive in efforts to identify and punish alleged drug offenders. Large-scale crackdowns, sophisticated sting operations and harsh penalties including mandatory minimums have led to a staggering number of people being arrested and imprisoned for drug-related offenses.
Despite these efforts, drug abuse is still a pervasive problem effecting people all over the U.S.; Orange County is no different. In fact, last month an undercover operation called Operation Snowplow resulted in the arrest of 15 people in connection with offenses related to heroin, adding to the more than 670 arrests made earlier in the year.
What this tells us is that heroin use is an issue that is not going away. In fact, in President Obama's most recent State of the Union address, he specifically called it out as an issue of high priority.
The efforts to tackle the heroin problem often result in serious criminal consequences: People are charged and convicted with a crime, sent to prison and then released with a stain on their criminal record and often few or no resources to get back on their feet.
Critics of this approach have argued that it is contributing to a vicious cycle where those who are struggling with addiction to heroin end up unable to find work after a conviction and no access to or motivation to seek out rehabilitation.
Supporters of aggressive enforcement, including the Orange County Sheriff, say that getting people into the legal system through arrests is actually of benefit to those struggling with addiction thanks to court-ordered treatment programs.
Whatever side of the debate you fall on, the fact is that heroin and opioid addiction is a very serious problem with no easy solution.
However, if you are one of the people caught up in the extensive efforts to track down drug offenders, you need to worry about your specific situation and your rights. Discussing your case with an attorney can help you understand your options in terms of seeking treatment, minimizing sentences and/or avoiding conviction.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Heroin users, dealers targeted in Operation Snowplow," Gal Tziperman Lotan, Dec. 18, 2015