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Our View: Consequences of drug use are tragic, preventable

Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

A Sycamore family has lost a child, a loss they will grieve for a lifetime.

A Sycamore man in what should be the prime of his life will spend a decade in prison for causing the crash that killed a boy.

At the bottom of it all is heroin.

That’s the drug that was in Benjamin Black’s system Feb. 27, 2013, when he rear-ended a vehicle in which 11-year-old Matthew Ranken was a passenger, killing him, and seriously injuring Teale Noble, another passenger in the vehicle, who was pregnant at the time.

It’s a tragic story, one in which justice was served when Kane County Judge James Hallock sentenced Black to 12 years in prison for aggravated driving under the influence March 26.

Black has apologized to Matthew’s familiy, and admitted that he is a heroin addict.

His actions after the fatal crash suggest that he had become a man ruled by his addiction. Less than a month after the crash, Black was arrested on theft charges in DeKalb County for stealing copper and brass from a Cortland manufacturing business.  

While he was on electronic home monitoring in DeKalb County after the theft arrest, Villa Park police found Black passed out in a car at a drug store, high on heroin.

The case is a sad example of the terrible effects that addictive, illegal drugs such as heroin can have not only on users and their families, but also on the public in general.

Our country’s “War on Drugs” is changing. There is new debate about how long drug offenders should be imprisoned, what drugs should be considered illegal, and how much emphasis should be placed on constricting the supply of drugs vs. rehabilitating users.

Under President Barack Obama, the federal government has sought to reduce sentences for drug traffickers, to institute policies that focus on preventing overdose deaths and helping people break the cycle of drug addiction.

Local authorities’ approach to drug enforcement also has evolved, with DeKalb County’s eight-year-old drug court program for those convicted of drug offenses being a prime example.

However, it is clear that we are a long way from getting this problem under control. Only one in 10 Americans in need of drug treatment ever receive it, says Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Unfortunately, Black was one of those who needed help he did not receive until it was too late. Both he and Matthew’s family will have to live with the consequences the rest of their lives.  

Stories such as this one are tragic and preventable. They are an important reason why we as a society must work to develop better, more sensible approaches to drug policy.

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