The recent deaths of three young adults in Columbus appear to be heroin-related and have police worried that a growing problem locally with the opiate will get much worse.
The number of heroin buys made by undercover narcotics officers has skyrocketed this year, about three times greater than the number made during the previous three years
This could be the “calm before the big storm,” said Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for the Columbus Police Department.
Heroin has the potential to become a local problem on par with methamphetamine. The department averages one meth-lab bust per week, he said.
“It is an epidemic right now,” Myers said of heroin use. “It is a problem and it is going to get much worse.”
After the third death in a month, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher agreed that heroin use is at an epidemic stage in the Columbus area.
The three Columbus area residents who died were all in their 20s. A preliminary investigation indicates possible heroin use in each case, based on evidence and information gathered from friends and family, Myers said.
The latest death was reported Wednesday at a home in the 300 block of Flatrock Drive. When officers arrived after receiving a call regarding an unresponsive male, they found that the 25-year-old caretaker for an elderly woman had already died.
“Collected evidence, as well as what we’ve heard from other people that knew this individual, indicate he had possible issues with heroin addiction,” Myers said.
“We don’t want to see young people dying like this. This department does not want to see this trend continue,” Myers said.
On the city’s far west side, a similar scene was discovered Aug. 17 near Interstate 65 and Jonathan Moore Pike. While visiting acquaintances, a 25-year-old Columbus man had fallen asleep in a motel room the previous night. When his friends woke up, they found the local man was unresponsive, Myers said.
First-responders got the man’s heart beating again for a brief time, but he died later at Columbus Regional
Evidence indicated possible heroin use, Myers said. Toxicology results are pending, he said.
The first death suspected to be heroin-related involved a 23-year-old man who died Aug. 3 at a residence in western Bartholomew County, Fisher said.
All three deaths remain under investigation.
Myers suspects that a bad batch of heroin may be circulating in the area.
A bad batch could mean the opiate is being sold in a pure and uncut form, mixed with unknown ingredients to increase the drug volume or combined with another mind-altering substance, Fisher said.
Use growing Heroin is easy to get.
Police hear that from various people they talk to, Myers said.
“Heroin is what people are wanting right now. It is what we’re chasing right now,” he said.
In Indiana, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds in drug treatment who reported heroin use more than quadrupled from 1.8 percent in 2001 to 8.7 percent in 2010, according to statistics cited in a recent Indiana University Center for Health Policy report.
Historically low prices, a perception of improved quality, and easy access through drug suppliers in both Chicago and Cincinnati have all attributed to the growing popularity of the drug in Bartholomew County, Columbus Police Department said in June.
The addictive nature of heroin is one thing that drives use and also makes it difficult to stop using, especially without insurance or other financial resources, Myers said.
Some people who are addicted to prescription pain pills turn to heroin for a stronger high, while some meth addicts use heroin to come down from a high, Myers said.
Residents should do everything in their power to stop addiction, Myers said. That could mean informing the police of an addicted friend or family member who refuses to seek professional help, he said.
“Sometimes, jail might be the only option. These people cannot quit on their own. Even if they want to quit, they can’t do it alone because (the withdrawal) will make them deathly sick,” Myers said.
City Editor Kirk Johannesen and reporter Randy McClain contributed to this story.