Across the nation, politicos and police alike have pushed a "compassionate" response to the heroin epidemic. Everyone from Chris Christie to Eric Holder have called the problem a public health crisis and argued the best response is a combination of reduced legal opioid prescriptions (in part offset by legal medical weed) and better treatment options for addicts.
Then there's the sheriff's office in Lake County, a mostly rural area just north of Orlando. That department's tack: a scare video featuring a glowering sheriff surrounded by ski-mask-clad deputies that has left tens of thousands of internet commenters comparing the low-budget production to an ISIS video.
“To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you," Sheriff Peyton Grinnell growls. "We’re coming for you.”
Grinnell's office says the masked men are undercover cops and their identity is being protected because they're working cases in the county of 300,000 people. "Our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you," he says on the film. "We are simply awaiting the arrest warrants to be finalized.”
The video, understandably, swept across the web after Grinnell's office posted it Friday. It's been watched more than half a million times. The comments have not been kind to the sheriff's machismo strategy.
"Is there any reason why Sheriff's deputies, who are public servants paid from the public coffers, have decided to wear balaclavas as if they are some terrorist cell?" a man named Matthew Barron asks.
Adds Nick Klein: "Why do your deputies look like ISIS militants? Are you the new Sheriff of the Islamic State? I guess this is the type of 'community engagement' we should expect when visiting Lake County. No thanks, I'll be sure to stay clear of your county."
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Even if you put aside the optics of a U.S. law enforcement agency going full Zorro on camera, Grinnell's approach still doesn't make a ton of sense.
The science is clear in the heroin epidemic, and its roots aren't in the kind of street-level dealers the Lake County Sheriff's Office proposes to destroy in epic SWAT raids that will probably include lots of unnecessary smoke bombs and militarized trucks. The root of the crisis are legal painkillers such as Oxycontin and Percocet, and the dealers who have pushed them are doctors and pharmaceutical companies.
Busting down doors and arresting small-time pushers of illegally obtained Oxy or heroin might make for a good news release for cops like Grinnell, but experts mostly agree it won't solve the crisis. It'll take a combination of fewer opioid prescriptions — which skyrocketed in the past decade — and more innovative treatment options for those already addicted.
At least half a dozen drug recovery centers exist in Lake County. Is Grinnell's office putting as many resources into helping addicts recover as it is ramping up its war on heroin? The sheriff hasn't returned a message from New Times to answer that question.