Derek Gentile: Bank heist shows failure of drug war



There was some excitement in Stockbridge recently, when a Hillsdale, N.Y., man allegedly robbed the Stockbridge branch of the Lee Bank.

The suspect eventually was caught, and please extend some credit to the Stockbridge Police Department, who reacted quickly and professionally.

Also, I give credit to the employees of the Lee Bank, who didn’t panic and acted professionally.

I got a few emails and Facebook messages during the week, decrying the brazenness of the act and lamenting how fearless criminals are these days. In addition, there was a wish for harsher sentences for these evildoers, as a deterrent to them ever robbing again.

Would that it were so easy.

I know the alleged Stockbridge robber. Or, at least, I know of him. He had a respectable trade and a family. Several years ago, he found himself in the grip of a terrible addiction. It is difficult, and probably impossible, to explain to people who have never used drugs just how badly the addiction grips you.

Please don’t assume I am an apologist for drugusers. Rarely does anyone put a gun to the respective heads of these people to force them to use drugs. I get that.


Most users, of course, believe they can "handle it." That is more than a little preposterous. There are a tiny, tiny percentage of people who weather their first heroin shot, and move away from addiction, but not too many. It grips them in a frightening stranglehold. You would have a better chance of outwrestling a shark in the ocean.

Which brings us to what’s happening in Berkshire County, and beyond. In February, public health officials gathered to discuss a spike in heroin use in Massachusetts that had already caused 185 overdoses that year. They were not all fatal, because EMTs in Massachusetts are trained to recognize these types of drug issues and deal with them. But that’s a lot of ODs.

So, OK, the easiest thing to do is to toss these loser druggies into the slammer. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key.

But the issue is, when these folks get out, they haven’t been given any way to throw off their addiction issues. And thus, they return to it.

I know, I know, none of us made these people become addicted. The problem is, whether we did or not, the consequences are the same.

People who need drugs can get drugs by acquiring money. Maybe sometimes they can borrow it from a friend or relative. But if they can’t, they have to steal it, and the faster they do that, the faster they can score.

So we are seeing some pretty brazen robberies.


My point is that you can’t just arrest your way out of this. Again, I’m not an apologist for drug users, but clearly, tossing them in the slammer doesn’t fix the problem.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s idea of providing college classes for drug users may not be politically correct -- and it’s not going to work for everyone. But we as a country have to figure out a way to try to get at least some of these offenders into a cycle where they can be successful.

I personally don’t feel like paying taxes to keep these guys in jail forever. But that’s, essentially, the plan as it is now.

Which clearly isn’t working.

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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