What some describe as a heroin epidemic showed up in drug overdose statistics for 2014.

Forty heroin overdoses were reported last year, which was five times the eight overdose cases reported the previous year, statistics in the Columbus Police Department’s 2014 annual report show.

Five overdose victims died, which is two more than in 2013, police reported.

Year-end figures show there were 24 heroin case investigations in 2014, the same number as the previous year, when there was a large spike in heroin cases.

Story continues below gallery

The number of heroin investigations during each of those two years also is nearly five times higher than the combined total recorded in 2011 and 2012.

Only one heroin investigation took place in 2011, while four took place the following year.

“Our fight against drugs is not easy,” Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde said.

“Attacking the heroin epidemic with the multifaceted strategies we have implemented is producing our desired results.”

Three of the department’s major objectives this year are:

•Decreasing the illegal drug supply and drug use in Columbus.

•Increasing drug arrests by 5 percent.

•Increasing adult criminal arrests by 5 percent.

The strategy involves a new drug task force that combines narcotics officers from the Columbus Police Department and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department working with the Bartholomew County Prosecutor’s Office while investigating cases.

Two sheriff’s department narcotics officers are working on a regular basis with three of their city counterparts.

By having a joint team, interconnections among various players in illegal drug trafficking will be mapped out, understood and acted upon far more effectively than could be done if individual departments act alone, Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash said.

“I clearly believe that this cooperative approach will produce positive results on our overall fight against drugs,” Rohde said.

Court efficiency in drug cases

In order to move drug-dealing cases more efficiently through the courts, Nash assigned Deputy Prosecutor Greg Long to handle all of these cases through each stage of prosecution.

Since Jan. 1, the cases of 18 suspected drug dealers have been referred to the deputy prosecutor by the joint narcotics enforcement team, Long said.

Two defendants are charged with dealing in heroin; and 16 are accused of dealing in methamphetamine. The latter include David Swift, 27, of Columbus, who was found guilty by a jury after five minutes of deliberations July 28.

Swift could receive two to 12 years imprisonment when he’s sentenced by Superior Court 1 Judge Jim Worton on Aug. 26.

Regarding other narcotics, the numbers of CPD investigations were down last year when compared with 2013.

With a large increase last year in the number of suspected methamphetamine dealers, the Columbus Police Department’s volume of investigations into dealing of other drugs saw just the opposite trend.

•Dealing in cocaine, down 70 percent

•Dealing in a controlled substance, down 75 percent

•Dealing in marijuana, down 40 percent

“What you see (with these statistics) is a result of us monitoring the drug trends and subsequently developing a multifaceted strategic approach to rid our community of drugs,” Rohde said.

From painkillers to heroin

Heroin use skyrocketed in the Columbus area and statewide after state and federal interventions reduced the availability of often-abused painkiller drugs, said Dr. Kevin Terrell, Columbus Regional Hospital emergency department medical director.

The police department and sheriff’s department took a huge step forward in trying to save overdose victims by equipping and training all patrol officers in the use of Narcan, an antidote administered as a nasal spray to those who are overdosing on an opioid substance.

The city program began in January, and the county followed suit two months later. Both were funded through grants from the Columbus Regional Health Foundation.

Columbus Regional Health provided the Narcan kits at the hospital’s cost, along with carrying cases for each officer, at a cost of $2,353.50. Also, 2014 Columbus East High School graduate Emmy Frederick raised $600 to buy the kits for officers as her senior project.

Columbus police officers have saved nine heroin overdose victims so far this year using Narcan.

Three people who overdosed in separate incidents within two hours in the late hours of June 29 and early hours of June 30 were the most recent saved by the drug, Columbus police said.

German Township firefighters became the first fire department in Bartholomew County to carry the Narcan kits this summer, purchasing them out of township funds.

Focusing on meth

Besides heroin dealers, narcotics officers in Columbus have concentrated much of their efforts on methamphetamine dealers.

The report states that 73 investigations into illegal sales of methamphetamine were launched in Columbus last year.

That’s a 38 percent increase from the previous year and 143 percent higher than the combined total from 2011 and 2012.

But at the same time, Columbus police found no methamphetamine labs in 2014.

Most of the methamphetamine now in circulation locally appears to be coming from outside the county or outside the state, Columbus Police Department spokesman Sgt. Matt Harris said.

In contrast, there were an average of 13 methamphetamine labs found in the city annually from 2011 to 2013.

If you go

A panel discussion on the effects heroin has in Bartholomew County on the user, family and community will be at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Bartholomew County Public Library.

Speakers include:

  • Jon Rohde, Columbus police chief.
  • Chris Lane, chief deputy for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.
  • Sabrina Myers, director of Bartholomew County Drug and Alcohol Program.
  • A representative from Centerstone behavioral health center.

This panel discussion is sponsored by Zonta International.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.