Legislation soon to be introduced on the county level that will require pawnshops and similar enterprises to hold merchandise for 15 days before it can be sold could be a new tool in the fight against drug abuse.

As News reporter Lou Michel recently outlined, many heroin addicts turn to pawnshops when they become desperate for money. The addicts don’t care where they get goods to trade for cash, but it is often from family members. Stolen gold jewelry is taken to pawnshops and cash-for-gold outlets, said one law enforcement official, and quickly melted down so there is no way to recover the items.

Unscrupulous pawnshop dealers don’t seem to care where the goods – especially gold jewelry – come from. They give the “seller” cash, often a pittance compared to what the merchandise is really worth.

Michel’s piece was one of a series of captivating stories on the growing heroin epidemic. Heroin addicts often first become hooked on prescription painkillers from their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets. That escalates to buying pills from a dealer or finding shady doctors willing to write painkiller prescriptions. When the habit becomes too expensive, addicts turn to heroin, which is far less expensive.

Whether painkillers or heroin, the addiction has to be funded and that’s often when once law-abiding citizens begin to prey on others.

Shelly Akins of Niagara Falls told the story of her late son Justen, then 26, who stole her diamond ring and diamond earrings, valued at more than $6,000. With that and his laptop computer he headed to a Town of Tonawanda pawnshop, where he got all of $500.

Law enforcement officials are all too familiar with these kinds of stories. They deal with them on a regular basis and they deal with resistance from some pawnshop owners who take the wares, even from a 20-something who seems an unlikely owner of heirloom jewelry.

Most pawnbrokers and gold dealers are honest and do not intentionally buy stolen merchandise. They should be leading the charge to drive the unscrupulous ones out of business. A mandatory waiting period before disposal of merchandise would be a step in that direction.

Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, plans to introduce a law that will require a 15-day waiting period for pawnshops and similar enterprises. Descriptions of the goods would have to be posted on a secure website, where police can check the items against lists of stolen property.

Meetings will be held later this month with detectives and members of the business community to discuss the proposed law.

They should consider that Buffalo already requires business owners to hold jewelry and other valuables they purchase for 21 days, in addition to requiring written descriptions of the items that are available to police. It makes sense and, according to law enforcement officials, discourages pawnbrokers and other second-hand businesses from taking in stolen goods.

However, as it stands now addicts can just go outside the city to shops where the rules are a lot less stringent.

Just like prescription painkiller abuse, the heroin scourge is destroying lives. It shouldn’t be supported by businesses turning a blind eye to theft.