Columbus police officers responded to two separate incidents of heroin overdoses in the city in a span of less than 6 hours.

Officers first responded to a call at 11 p.m. Thursday at a westside motel, where a 45-year-old female had overdosed on heroin, said Lt. Matt Harris, police department spokesman.

Officers were then sent to a manufacturing plant on Gladstone Avenue at 4:30 a.m. Friday on a report of a male — whose age was not immediately available who also had overdosed on the drug, Harris said.

Both the woman and the man were revived at the scene using Narcan, the life-saving drug meant to help people regain consciousness after a heroin overdose, Harris said.

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Such situations are becoming more common in Columbus and Bartholomew County as officers respond to a seemingly skyrocketing number of heroin overdoses, many of which require use of Narcan to revive the victims.

In an effort to fight back against the surge in local heroin use, the Columbus Police and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s departments are teaming up on a new initiative meant to facilitate the sharing of intelligence related to drug use and to slow the rapidly growing local drug problem.

In his State of the City address last week, Mayor Jim Lienhoop announced the creation of the Heroin Overdose Response Initiative, a collaborative effort between city and county law enforcement agencies that focuses on centralizing drug-related information between the two departments.

Currently, both agencies work to combat local drug crimes following protocols that are unique to each department, Lienhoop said.

However, the new initiative is designed to create more consistency in those protocols and increase intelligence sharing between the two departments to coordinate police and sheriff efforts toward reducing drug crimes, police chief Jon Rohde said.

When one of the departments investigates a drug overdose, the initiative requires the responding officers to log that intelligence in a centralized database that can be accessed by officers from both departments.

“Every law enforcement agency does things differently, and we want to make sure when you look at the end result of this — the intelligence that we’re gaining out of it — that it was consistent,” Rohde said. “Everything we’re doing, the sheriff’s department’s doing. And everything the sheriff’s department’s doing, we’re doing.”

Fixing the problem

Lienhoop has identified finding a solution to the growing drug problem as one of the top priorities of his administration.While he said he did not envision the heroin response initiative specifically, the mayor said he did want to pursue a plan that would increase collaboration among local law enforcement agencies. Eventually, his goal is to share the concept of the Heroin Overdose Response Initiative with other communities to help combat the statewide drug surge.Even if an investigation does not result in criminal charges, Rohde said the initiative is designed to encourage officers to take intelligence from that investigation and analyze it as it relates to the larger drug-reduction effort.

“In the past we’ve worked these investigations … and the value of the intelligence wasn’t known or we didn’t really appreciate it as much as we should have,” Sheriff Matt Meyers said. “The emphasis is put on that intelligence, gathering and saving, and the right people knowing.”

Intelligence-led policing is the newest trend among law enforcement officials, and the creation of the heroin initiative puts local agencies on the forefront of that trend, Rohde said.

Although the players involved in the initiative will not meet with each other every day, the increase in collaboration and meetings between the two departments is something unique to Bartholomew County, Meyers said.

Rohde said members of the police and sheriff’s command staff conduct joint monthly meetings, which is also a unique feature to the local initiative.

Second partnership

The Heroin Overdose Response Initiative comes on the heels of the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, a similar partnership between city and county law enforcement agencies and the Bartholomew County prosecutor’s offices launched last year that is designed to aggressively target local drug use.The difference between the two programs, Rohde said, is that the police and sheriff’s departments had to contribute resources to the narcotics task force.While there are no physical resources to contribute to the heroin initiative, Rohde said its success will be dependent on a conscious effort by both departments to collaborate and share intelligence related to drug-reduction efforts.

Members of the task force will be included in the intelligence sharing that comes out of the heroin initiative, Rohde said.

The launch of the initiative comes at a time when drug use, particularly of heroin, is at the forefront of local residents’ minds.

The city police department estimates that there have been 14 suspected overdoses in 2016, with Narcan administered by either an officer or a medic in 10 of those incidents.

Records from the sheriff’s department show five overdoses this year, with four deaths.

State Attorney General Greg Zoeller visited the Columbus Police Department on Thursday to acknowledge law enforcement personnel from the police and sheriff’s departments who have administered Narcan in the past year.

One of the officers who was honored, Patrolmen Ben Goodin, told a story at Zoeller’s ceremony of an overdose he responded to on Valentine’s Day.

The woman was unconscious and not breathing on the floor while her young son was in the room. Goodin revived her with Narcan, and she immediately began screaming that she did not want to go to the hospital, he said.

Police responded to a similar call at the woman’s home the very next day, and eventually the Department of Child Services had to step in and take the child from the home, Goodin said.

Lienhoop said situations like that — when a parent is incapacitated and unable to take care of their children — are why the community needs to partner with law enforcement agencies to combat the growing drug problem.

“Obviously we would like to know what’s going to happen bad before it happens so we can stop it,” Meyers said. “The only way you can do that is through intelligence-based policing. We don’t want to be reactive. We want to be proactive.”

About the initiative

Mayor Jim Lienhoop announced the creation of the Heroin Overdose Response Initiative at his State of the City address Tuesday. The initiative is designed to increase collaboration between the Columbus Police Department and the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

When one law enforcement agency investigates a drug overdose, it must log the intelligence from the investigation in a centralized database that can be accessed by personnel from both departments. Additionally, the initiative is designed to increase consistency in the way each department investigates drug overdose situations.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.