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Louisiana Moves to Punish Heroin Users With Prison Time

The Louisiana House Criminal Justice Committee pushed forward a bill that would sentence heroin users to two years in prison while doubling time for dealers.

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By Shawn Dwyer

03/28/14

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In a huge step backward, Louisiana legislators appear ready to punish heroin users by introducing a bill to the House that would double the current five-year sentence for distribution and put users in jail for a minimum of two years for possession.

House Bill 332 was voted on without objection in the House Criminal Justice Committee, clearing the way for a vote in the full House. Because of the drastic increase in heroin use in the state – and all over the nation – even some lawmakers who have previously refused to support mandatory minimums backed HB332.

“We haven’t seen the worst if this stuff really takes root,” said state Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette.

Law enforcement officials praised the committee’s efforts after seeing citizens young and old becoming addicted to heroin in all corners of the state. “If you do heroin, you’re going to do time ... This drug has no boundaries of race. This drug has no boundaries of economic strata,” said Michael Renatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association.

“It’s easier to buy heroin on the street than it is to buy Oxycontin,” said Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said.

But not everyone in the state’s criminal justice system wants to see the bill passed. Robert Toale, president of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, argued that heroin addicts need treatment, not prison time. “We shouldn’t be making criminals of people who have gone from Oxycontin to heroin,” Toale said. “These people need help.”

Studies have shown that sending substance abusers to treatment centers instead of jail not only cuts down on crime, but also has the potential to save billions of dollars. Add to the fact that a user has a better chance of kicking the habit through treatment, one has to wonder why Louisiana has taken this rather harsh and unnecessary step.

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