Law enforcement fights for tougher heroin laws
BATON ROUGE - After seeing the number of overdose deaths skyrocket in Louisiana, top law enforcement officials testified Wednesday at the Capitol in favor of tougher laws for heroin.
"Heroin came back," said Michael Ranatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriff's Association. "(And it) came back to the problem that it is today."
Sheriffs from East Baton Rouge and Jefferson Parishes, the two largest parishes in the state, testified to a House Committee on Criminal Justice at the Capitol about the resurgence of heroin.
"One dose can be lethal," Ranatza said. "One dose can take your child from you."
Last year in East Baton Rouge Parish 35 people died from heroin, seven times as many who died the previous year. Law enforcement seized nearly nine pounds of the drug last year, compared to about a quarter-ounce previously.
"So we saw a 55,000 percent increase in heroin seizures in two years," said East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.
They're backing a bill that would increase mandatory-minimum sentences for heroin to no less than two years in jail for possession and no less than ten years locked up for distribution.
"Right now, we have an extremely serious and deadly heroin problem," said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore. "That's what this addresses right now. Right now we have to put some people in jail."
But locking people up is not seen by everyone as the best method to fight the problem.
"Do we want to spend more money increasing our jails? I thought we were looking for alternatives to keep people out of jail," said Robert Toale, with the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The bill eventually passed with no objections, but Toale thinks drug rehabilitation will eventually save taxpayer money in the long run. He pledges to keep up the fight against the bill.
"Louisiana is going backwards," Toale said. "We're going against the trend of the rest of the country by incarcerating people who use heroin."
The heroin bill now moves on to a vote from the entire House.