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BARTHOLOMEW County residents received a brutal reminder of the consequences of drug abuse in a newspaper headline across the front page of The Republic Sunday: “Heroin suspected in 3 recent deaths.”
The story recounted investigations into the deaths of three local residents in August. While the results of definitive tests are pending, police reported that evidence and information gathered from friends of the victims indicated possible heroin use.
The reports are especially stunning given the ever-growing concerns about another drug epidemic in the area, the continuing spread of methamphetamine abuse. The meth scourge has drawn the attention of police, especially during the past decade as dealers and users alike have developed home-cooked methods of manufacturing the highly addictive substance.
Police departments in south central Indiana have set up special meth units charged only with investigating meth-related crimes or incidents. The law enforcement effort has yielded some impressive statistics. Indiana has one of the best records in the country for detecting and destroying meth labs, for instance.
Statistics like that can be a double-edged sword. It indicates that police are actively cracking down on a problem. It also shows that the problem is pretty severe.
The looming threat of arrest and jail time has obviously not served as a deterrent to many who abuse or distribute illegal drugs. Many in prison today have multiple drug offenses on their records, an indication that addictions are stronger than the fear of being caught.
Meth abuse does not appear to have slackened in recent months, which makes the emergence of heroin into the local drug culture even more troubling.
Bartholomew County is not an isolated pocket in this latest development. In Indianapolis, police report that they are averaging 20 pounds a month in heroin seizures. Two years ago, it was one pound a month.
Statewide, the Indiana University Center for Health Policy reports that the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds in drug treatment who reported heroin use more than quadrupled between 2001 and 2010 (1.8 percent to 8.7 percent).
Regardless of the cycle for the drug of choice at any particular time — heroin, meth, prescription drugs, cocaine, marijuana, even alcohol — there obviously is no one simple and quick solution to the scourge of addiction.
This community has gone through these cycles before. In the early 1990s substance abuse was identified as the community’s No. 1 concern in a human needs assessment conducted by the United Way of Bartholomew County.
Out of that study emerged a community response — the Focus 2000 Substance Council — which developed a comprehensive approach to the problem. Using law enforcement, the court system, school officials, health care providers and the recovering community, the group called for spreading out resources and duties in a multipronged approach. It yielded results, some of which are still in place today, but that was two decades ago, and we are obviously dealing with a different situation in the 21st century.
One thing seems to be clear, however. Law enforcement alone will not be able to end a scourge that has taken too many lives and shattered too many families. The response must come from the community as a whole.
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