If it’s not too late, I’d like to applaud the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram for devoting so much time, resources and good old-fashioned empathy to casualties of the opioid crisis here in Maine.

The March 26-April 4 “Lost” series was stellar, its most admirable upshot being the determined humanization of these people. The break-out biographies in particular effectively illustrated the breadth of the issue and the breadth of people who are sadly pulled into this vortex, many by something we’ve traditionally seen as safe and palliative: a doctor’s visit.

I have been struck and continue to be struck by the seemingly culturewide determination not to criminalize and dehumanize 21st-century heroin casualties. It’s remarkable how little such perspective has been brought to other drug epidemics through the years. Having lived through the cocaine and crack years of the 1980s and ’90s, I cannot but notice something of a double standard.

Think of the way casualties of crack were treated back then (and still are today). Humanization of these casualties was never a goal of media coverage. Lawmakers also treated these people differently, too: The U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for the possession or trafficking of crack (whose users were largely black and urban) compared to penalties for trafficking powder (white and suburban).

Starting in 1986, someone caught with 5 grams of crack received the same minimum mandatory sentence (five years in federal prison) as someone possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine.

These laws were “remedied” in 2010 to reflect a mere 18-to-1 disparity, but still … This statutory response and the recent Press Herald series oblige us to ask of our culture: Why the disparity at all? And why are we today so determined to privilege (with empathy) the casualties of one drug epidemic, but not others?

Hal Phillips

New Gloucester