Our recent news story about Harford County's heroin trade and the national attention it received on a recent edition of National Geographic Channel's "Drugs Inc." series should have not come as any surprise to anyone living in Harford County.

As a news organization, The Aegis has been reporting about the local heroin problem – and all its associated ills – for well over a decade, actually probably closer to two decades.


Don't be fooled by the apologists and naysayers. The problem exists, it is indeed approaching epidemic proportions and it may not be going away any time soon.

Why did this happen? It was a perfect storm, if you will, of willing buyers, sellers rushing in to satiate and stoke the demand (as is the case with all abused substances), geographic positioning and a combination of public policy actions with disastrous consequences – and not all of them unintended in my view.

But all that is in the rearview window. The problem is here and replaying the past won't make it go away.

One thing that needs to be done is to prevent enabling the problem to spread by taking a hard line on people who are busted selling. Judges in general are too lenient on repeat offenders, in part I suspect because everyone recognizes the state penal system doesn't reform anyone. It just warehouses them temporarily, and most of the operators carry on from behind bars, anyway.

Even so, I take the position that you should get rid of problems by moving them out, whether it means "exiling" the sellers to prison, in the words of federal prosecutors, or cleaning out the communities where the drug trade flourishes and then negatively affects the rest of the county – actually both.

Earlier I mentioned public policy decisions as contributing to the local heroin epidemic, and part of them deal with enabling too much housing in this county for lower income people. Tax breaks, rent subsidies, the Moving to Opportunity program are all examples of public policy decisions that have had a deleterious impact on Harford County.

Rather than saying "no" to so-called "affordable housing" (if ever there was a euphemism that's it) by making it unaffordable, and thus unprofitable, for the developer to build and own it, our elected officials enable these projects. Then, after they grant tax breaks and cheap loans, all of us pay untold tax dollars for policing the criminal mess that is bound to follow in these neighborhoods.

Frankly, it's cheaper to bulldoze something that's costing you millions for policing and social services than to keep it alive with tax breaks and cut-rate financing.

The same goes for the methadone clinics and pain clinics and halfway houses and recovery houses that operate in Harford County. Move them out, too, because they all arrive to profit from a community's drug problem. Cut the health department and the social services budgets to make their related programs also go away, as well. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Bel Air became infested with drug culture support places and programs before most law-abiding citizens realized what was happening, and when they did, it was too late to get them out. Of course, if the addicts and criminals weren't around to patronize them in the first place, the operators would set up shop somewhere else. That's a pleasant but, unfortunately, an unrealistic thought at this juncture.

I know every time I write something like this the defenders come out and show how there is living proof of the benefits of recovery programs, pain clinics, methadone programs. And, I will grant you there are many well-intentioned people in the recovery field. The problem is, an addict will go to great lengths to deceive, connive and lie, cheat and steal to feed his or her habit, including duping anyone that tries to help them – usually successfully.

Mostly, the programs just end up enabling the users to continue abusing, because there's a whole web of shady operators out there waiting to take advantage of these human failings, not to mention the cadre of sellers on the street. Meanwhile, people's homes and vehicles and businesses are broken into and sometimes far worse because drug habits must be fed. The police, the courts, the jails are the final line of defense, but they're like the boy who put his finger in the dike to stop the flood.

Dealing with Harford's heroin epidemic (or its pain pill and synthetic pot epidemics) first takes community-wide recognition that the problem exists. Recognition needs to be followed by community outrage. And finally, people should say, enough, and fight anything that enables this problem to continue.

There's been plenty of warning and some recognition but, to date, not nearly enough outrage.