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March 7, 2014

DODD: The heroin epidemic

On a daily basis, I meet people who use drugs. It’s almost amusing when it’s a young person who is only driving drunk from too much alcohol or simply smoking a bit of pot. It almost seems like you breathe a sigh of relief.

Heroin is the biggest problem today.

When I was a young person, it was the drug of choice of rock stars and Hollywood personalities. It was expensive and hard to obtain. Heroin used to come from faraway places like Afghanistan.

Then we had a war and shut down the poppy fields. A funny side effect of that war seems to have altered the course of drug use for young people.

Heroin is now coming from just across the border from Mexico. It comes in daily and by the truckload. It is as common as pot or pills. Heroin is an epidemic in southern Indiana.

For $15-20 per injection, it is now affordable. By affordable, I mean young people can steal enough or young girls can sell their body for a fix. It’s very obtainable. It has become the drug of choice thanks to another war — the one where we cracked down on the abuse of prescription pills available on the street.

Possession of heroin or syringes is now one of the most common charges we see come through the jail. There is nothing on a weekly or daily basis that comes close.

I researched a National Institute on Drug Abuse report that stated in 2011 about 4.2 million Americans had reported to have used heroin at least once in their lifetime. The same study concluded that about 23 percent of people who tried heroin once eventually became dependent upon it. I would be amazed if that number was not higher today than it was in 2011. The average age of a regular heroin user is around 23 years of age.

The explosion in heroin use has certainly presented challenges as to how we can deal with the problem. Anyone who has ever tried to get help for a substance abuse problem knows of the shortages of treatment centers, halfway houses and other necessary services to get back on the road to a normal life.

The associated health problems, broken families, crimes committed and arrests have clogged the legal system. All social services agencies have been overly burdened by the new heroin related problems. There is probably no practical way to measure the financial costs of the problem.

What we are seeing locally and nationally is larger numbers of young people who — even if they are saved from total destruction of their lives if not death — have a trail of legal issues and drug charges that will follow them throughout their adult lives. Destructive choices in their early 20s will doom them forever.

A new law has been passed in Indiana called the “second chance” law. Certain class D felonies can now be reduced to a misdemeanor under some guidelines. Those guidelines have to have the following elements involved:

1. The person is not a sex offender;

2. The conviction is for a crime that did not involve bodily injury;

3. At least three years have passed since the person completed their sentence;

4. The person has not been convicted of another felony since this conviction; and

5. The person has no pending charges.                                            

I have worked with people involved in drug use for more than two years now. I have witnessed the overloading of the judicial and legal system. I have personally witnessed the destruction of so many lives.

I have often been asked if it depresses me to work in such an environment on a regular basis and if it makes me have a gloomy outlook on life. While I admit to some days being a bit overwhelming, I do often find some comfort in the fact that many days outside the courtroom I am approached by young people who want to say, “thank you,” or want to tell me they are now clean and sober and doing well.

Some have gotten their kids back, others have reunited with their families, and some just proudly want to tell me they are now working and getting back to a normal life.

I have worked with and gotten to know many families who have had to deal with such issues. I have seen people I have known for many years in various states of emotional duress from obvious worry, depression or tears. I have heard the stories from parents of kids who were once high achievers and good students who fell to the bottom of the heap. I have seen young people destroying their lives from every socioeconomic level in our community.

Many wonderfully talented and dedicated people are dedicating their lives to save them. We need many more halfway houses and drug treatment programs.

The problems are permeating this community and others. I don’t know how many times I have talked to a family member who told me the same thing: “I never thought it would happen to my child.”

It does. And there is no guarantee it won’t happen to yours. Many addicts have told me the same thing: “It only took the one time and I was hooked.”

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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