BY MOST accounts, it was quite a haul. When a sharp-eyed Dryden provincial police officer last Friday stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation on Highway 17, it was found to contain a whopping $800,000 worth of cocaine.

Police said it was one of the largest illegal-drug seizures in Northwestern Ontario in recent memory. A 29-year-old Winnipeg man was arrested and charged with trafficking.

While the amount of the seizure may have raised eyebrows, it surely won’t be the last: as the OPP noted last week, our section of the Trans-Canada Highway remains a major transportation route for the movement of illegal drugs, “both east and west.”

Where are the drugs going? Even police investigators sometimes don’t know, since suspects often don’t tell. Revealing the interworkings of a drug network is not looked upon kindly by enforcers of organized crime.

In the meantime, provincial police officers who patrol highways 11 and 17 have become fairly skilled at apprehending drug mules and preventing at least some of the illegal product from hitting the black market.

A veteran officer once explained his low-key approach at road-side: “You don’t want to alarm the suspect; for one thing, you don’t want to get shot.”

Despite the effectiveness of officers, it is widely assumed that the amount of drugs that are taken out of circulation is just the tip of the iceberg. The drugs keep coming and coming; policing costs, already stretched to the limit, keep ballooning, It seems like we have become a drug culture, a belief that was surely reinforced last fall when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made good on a campaign pledge to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Yet even Trudeau must realize how the use of drugs, whether it is legal or not, ravages families, threatens one’s employment prospects and generally seriously degrades a person’s overall well-being. Police on the front lines of drug abuse have often observed that we can’t police our way out that situation.

Drugs, legal or otherwise, will not sell if there is no demand. It’s that simple. If we assume that many addicts would prefer to not waste their day in a drug-induced haze, then surely we must increase opportunities for them to get the help they need.

Inevitably, that will require more taxpayer investment for mental-health services (in schools especially) as well as publicly-funded clinics and research into medications that help abusers stay off drugs and alcohol.

In the short-term, all of that will have to be done while governments continue to shoulder the high cost of policing. It’s going to be an expensive undertaking, but so is the never-ending cost of intercepting drugs on highways and airports.

Police are necessary, but they are almost always involved at the tail end of things. We need to get in front of the problem.

(Originally published Jan. 16, 2019)

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