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The Neitzels get more compassionate media coverage than inner-city drug addicts: Mitchell

Updated: November 18, 2013 7:49AM

I’m already sick of seeing and hearing from the three Lockport women who injected themselves with a flesh-eating drug.

Amber Neitzel, 26, and her sister, Angela, 29, are admitted heroin addicts. Their mother, 48-year-old Kim Neitzel, also is addicted to the illegal drug. The women have become the face of Krokodil, a disfiguring man-made drug that leaves users with dead and rotting skin.

Police officials are trying to identify the source of the drug, which costs about $8. For the past couple of days, the Neitzels have been all over TV, radio and print lamenting their use of the knockoff drug that has left them with scars and needing skin grafts.

“I had $100 worth of heroin in my hand and threw it across the house,” Amber Neitzel told reporters, explaining that her experience with Krokodil has scared her away from heroin.

I hope she is able to hang on to her determination. But as most drug addiction counselors would tell you, relapse is common.

What I find most interesting is how the media is presenting the women.

There’s barely a mention that heroin is illegal, or that users are the driving force behind an epidemic that so far has killed 80 people in Will County over the last two years.

There also has not been a lot of tongue-wagging over the poor example Mama Neitzel’s drug use set for her daughters.

Under the scandalous circumstances, these women are being treated with an extraordinary amount of decency and compassion.

Indeed, in this rare instance, drug addiction is actually being treated like a disease rather than a crime.

On the other hand, when police lock up young black men from urban communities on drug charges, these men are treated like a scourge on society.

For instance, at the same time the Neitzel women were showing their lesions, Keith Cozart, better known as Chief Keef, was getting a mug shot — and 20 days in Cook County Jail.

Cozart, 18, was ordered to jail on Monday after he tested positive for marijuana. When Cozart pleaded guilty to driving 110 mph in May, he was ordered to pay a $531 fine; serve 18 months probation; complete 60 hours of community service, and submit to random drug tests.

Obviously, that isn’t going well.

Although Cozart is not expected to serve the entire 20 days, he’ll have to go through the Cook County Department of Corrections drug program, apparently on the taxpayer’s dime. But locking someone up for smoking marijuana seems like a joke now that the state has permitted ailing people to legally use the drug.

Don’t get me wrong, Cozart needs to slow down and make the most of his fame. If he doesn’t get a grip on his life soon, he could end up getting in more serious trouble with the police and sitting out his youth behind bars.

Still, many of us tend to view the Cozarts of the world as criminals deserving stiff punishment, while people like the Neitzels are deserving of our sympathy.

This bias comes into play the moment a black youth is picked up with a bag of weed in his pocket.

Indeed, it was a significant triumph last year when the Chicago City Council voted overwhelmingly to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the ordinance, police were given the discretion to write tickets instead of making arrests. That didn’t mean that people could walk down the street smoking marijuana. But it did mean a young person’s life didn’t have to be ruined because he or she was caught with a blunt.

While law enforcement has been focused on marijuana, heroin made a comeback on the streets.

Unfortunately, suburban police districts largely ignored the problem.

But I’ve witnessed enough drug stings on the West Side to know that many of the purchasers who stumbled down those dark alleys looking for a fix were white people who hopped off the Eisenhower Expy.

Because law enforcement in suburban areas was slow to react to this drug trafficking, the highly addictive drug found its way into the well-kept homes in their towns and villages.

Now heroin has made its way to a new generation of users in places like Bolingbrook, Braidwood, Crete, Frankfort, Lockport and Joliet. Over the last two years, scores of young people have died from fatal overdoses, prompting law enforcement in the region to crackdown on suppliers, including the person who provided the fatal dose.

“We have a heroin epidemic in this country,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said at a recent news conference announcing charges against 30 people accused of drug-trafficking.

But I don’t see DuPage County hassling young people on the street to stop the spread of this epidemic. Instead, concerned parents have organized nonprofit groups like Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization or HERO, an organization founded by two parents who lost their children to the drug.

And I don’t think young women like the Neitzels will be called upon to identify their suppliers or participate in the kind of undercover operations that has landed thousands of young blacks in prison on drug conspiracy charges.

When it comes to illegal drug use, we seem to have a lot more compassion for users snared by addiction when they come from outside of the urban center. This bias has blinded people to the growing epidemic of illegal drug use, even when it was right under their noses.

Hopefully, the Neitzels will get the help they need to overcome their addictions.

And frankly, I’m not concerned about Cozart’s situation — not when the going gag on late-night TV is how much weed Snoop Dogg smokes.

But when law enforcement is still spending money to incarcerate people like Cozart for smoking marijuana when a flesh-eating illegal drug has made it on the market in the Chicago area, it helps explain why the War on Drugs has been such a failure.

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