Local and federal law enforcement agencies pulled off quite a coup this week, breaking up a major prescription pill distribution ring. They deserve high praise.
But they are well aware of the potential for their efforts to result in a very, very unpleasant side effect - an increase in heroin trafficking in our area.
Fifteen people, all of them local residents, have been indicted as a result of an investigation that began in 2012. Charges against them include illegal sale of prescription pain pills, cocaine and other drugs.
With luck, investigators will be able to use the charges as leverage to make more arrests, going right to the sources of the illegal drugs allegedly trafficked by the 15 local people.
Again, however, police and prosecutors battling illegal drugs are painfully aware of the self-sustaining and vicious-cycle natures of the enemy.
Too often, breaking up one illegal drug ring merely creates an opportunity for other pushers to step in and fill the void.
And some of the ring's customers for painkillers, unable to make "buys" from those arrested, may turn to a harder drug - heroin.
Researchers have established a strong link between abuse of painkillers and heroin addiction. Many of the painkillers use opiates or are derived from them. Heroin also is an opiate drug.
Those who abuse painkillers sometimes progress to heroin for various reasons. Price is one of them. Strange as it may seem, heroin often is cheaper than the pills.
Here in the Ohio Valley, heroin has become the illegal drug of choice for many abusers. Some of the now-defunct ring's painkiller customers undoubtedly would have progressed to it. With their supplier gone, more may do so.
Law enforcement agencies involved in breaking up the ring did very good, worthwhile work. Again, kudos to all involved.
But the possibility that series of arrests may be a boon to heroin pushers is a reminder of how complex, frustrating - and evil - the enemy is in the war against drugs. Those who fight it on our behalf need all the help they can get.