Heroin delivery charges have been filed against a western Pennsylvania teacher, accused of selling 45 bags of the opiate to a confidential informant. Lisa Rodnicki, age 37, had been a health and phys ed teacher at Norwin High School in Westmoreland County since 2007. Ironically, her curriculum as a health teacher included drug abuse education. Another strange twist to this case is that Ms. Rodnicki is the daughter of the school district’s superintendent.
The face of opiate addiction in the United States has radically changed over the past few decades. No longer are heroin addicts restricted to counter culture artists, musicians and societal drop-outs, the mentally ill and skid row homeless people. A steep rise in the number of people being prescribed opiates for pain management has created a corresponding explosion in middle class opiate addicts. Currently, heroin is far cheaper than prescription pills, and often far easier to get. This leads previously law-abiding citizens with addiction to pain meds to switch to heroin as a sheer act of desperation.
Another thing addicts will routinely do is sell drugs to finance their own addiction. Without knowing anything about this case, I highly doubt that a 37 year-old, well-liked teacher would suddenly start selling heroin simply to augment her income. The chances are far more likely that she was financing her own addiction.
The typical reaction a lot of people have when they come across stories like this is one of moral indignation, because teachers serve as role models for kids. Yet cases like this are not about morality; they are about addiction, and addiction is a medical issue. People like Ms. Rodnicki need our sympathy and understanding, not our scorn.
If Ms. Rodnicki is convicted, her sentencing guidelines will be determined by her prior record and the weight of the heroin seized by the police. We can assume that she has no prior record, or she could not have been a teacher. 45 bags of heroin is probably somewhere between one and 10 grams, which would create a standard range of sentencing of six to 14 months, with these numbers representing the minimum portion of the possible sentence. In Pennsylvania, inmates are eligible for parole after serving the minimum portion of their sentences.
Although the sentencing guidelines call for incarceration instead of probation, judges and prosecutors have broad discretion in formulating an appropriate sentence. No matter what happens, Ms. Rodnicki’s teaching career is over, which is a significant punishment in and of itself. It is time to start looking at addiction as a medical issue rather than a moral failing worthy of harsh criminal penalties. If Ms. Rodnicki has an opiate addiction, both her rehabilitative needs and the long-term interests of society would be best served through inpatient treatment followed by ongoing outpatient treatment.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania. He has extensive experience representing clients with addiction issues. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Drug-Felonies.shtml