Let’s start out with the obvious: The Riley County Police Department deserves our thanks and support. The cops have evidently busted a major drug ring in town, one that’s responsible for supplying heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, hydrocodone and marijuana here.

Fifty-four people were indicted, with most of them already under arrest. The vast majority of them were here, with other arrests in Kansas City and Chicago, where the network leads to.

How their court cases play out will determine the success of this “takedown,” which a federal prosecutor called the largest in the history of the state. It’s worth noting that all the people identified thus far — and we ran all of them in the paper Wednesday — are innocent until proven guilty.

But let’s assume for the moment that at least a significant portion of that bunch is in fact involved in drug distribution. Even if their stay in jail is brief, it will nonetheless disrupt their business. That’s good. If they end up convicted, that’s even better.

Drug dealing is, as the cops pointed out in a news conference in Topeka Wednesday, most definitely not a victimless crime. At least one young Manhattan man was killed by an overdose, due to the fact that the drug he thought he was taking was laced with a much more powerful one, fentanyl. Just a tiny bit of that stuff can kill you, and you might not ever know you’re taking it.

The local police had already started an investigation of the network prior to that death, but that kicked the whole thing into high gear. Federal authorities got more heavily involved, and the resources available at that level allowed the operation to “clean out a whole city,” as the authorities said.

Again, we’re grateful for that hard work and focus.

The authorities emphasized that it’s not as if there’s some major drug problem here worse than elsewhere. It’s just that they had a chance to get at it, and take it all down. Still, it’s worth thinking about the fact that there was obviously a market here for all those drugs. There was a demand.

It’s not as if innocent little lambs here in the heartland were unknowingly doped up by smooth operators from Chicago. It’s important to realize that people here wanted those drugs, and were willing to pay a lot of money to get them. Without a doubt, that’s still entirely the case right now, and somebody else will move in to provide the supply.

The authorities will do their best to stop that, and we’re confident they’ll have success from time to time.

This is no different from anywhere else in America, and it points to an obvious fact: The only way to really combat the problem of illegal drug use is to reduce the demand for the stuff. We have to do whatever we can to get people to quit using it.

What does that mean? That’s very tough to answer, because it’s a matter of the heart and the mind. Tougher laws don’t seem to do much. Important factors — pop culture, peer pressure, the stupidity of youth — aren’t controllable. Education is an easy answer, and it’s a part. Motivational speakers, such as the one brought to Manhattan High by the local Rotary clubs, can help.

We don’t have a single answer. And we don’t mean to diminish in any way the hard work by the police and prosecutors. They deserve our deep gratitude — busting up the supply chain will certainly help.

But to really make a long-term difference, it’s all about the demand.

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