Editor’s note: This is the first part of a multi-part series on heroin. The Journal Review is publishing this series as part of National Red Ribbon Week.
Montgomery County has a problem.
Heroin has been a foundation of crime. It has broken households, dismantled lives and led to untimely deaths.
“Heroin is a huge problem because people get addicted to it so quickly,” Crawfordsville Detective Lieutenant Bob Rivers said. “Addicts get so sick without it and get desperate for a fix.”
Police believe many thefts and robberies stem from heroin addictions. Rivers and Crawfordsville Detective Lieutenant David Long have even covered daytime thefts and break-ins that resulted from an addict’s desperation. Some of those cases emerged after an addict stole and lied to family members.
“Addiction starts with a bad choice,” Long said. “That choice grows into larger problems that are hard to beat, but the initial bad choice was there. You have to own up to that. You cannot recover until you admit you have an addiction.”
Heroin is a narcotic drug that acts as morphine when it enters the body. It is an extract from opium poppy plants that has become a problematic recreational drug over several decades.
“Heroin works very quickly and is very potent,” said Pharmaceutical Dr. Tricia Williams of Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health — Crawfordsville. “It establishes a physical and mental craving by changing someone’s brain chemistry slightly. The mental craving for the euphoric feeling drives the addiction.”
Montgomery County Jail Commander Lonnie Jones has spoken with several offenders who were addicted to heroin. Jones said those discussions indicate heroin is easily accessible and inexpensive.
“After they detox, they understand heroin is bad for them and that it can kill them,” Jones said. “The addiction is so strong, they can’t stop. I’ve been told it’s a stronger addiction than methamphetamine.”
Heroin addicts have confessed to police officers that the first high is always the strongest. The constant pursuit of that high then leads to a severe addiction and dependency.
Local law enforcement officers said there are several reasons why people turn to heroin. The root cause, they believe, is gateway drugs and prescription medications.
“A lot of kids and adults don’t realize how big of an issue prescription drugs are,” Long said. “They can get addicted to prescription drugs, which are more expensive and harder to get. Heroin, on the other hand, is cheaper and attainable. It becomes a more affordable alternative.”
Throughout his 27-year law enforcement career, Jones has seen drug abusers switch from marijuana to heroin. He also has seen several generations of families battle addictions to heroin.
“It’s discouraging to see some of these folks coming back and battling the same issues,” Jones said. “When they exit, you hope they decide to leave the substance alone and live a clean life.”
However, the nature of heroin often causes former users to relapse. Heroin withdraws cause physical and mental pains so severe, users crave the drug just to feel normal. Relapses often cause overdoses and deaths.
“Someone can be off heroin for a while and be alright, but something triggers them to use it again,” Rivers said. “Their tolerance lowers during the recovery process and they eventually overdose.”
Chief Deputy Ryan Needham of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said drug arrests fluctuate between methamphetamine and heroin. The dealers of those drugs extend from Crawfordsville to Indianapolis. However, Needham has noticed a decline in drug-related deaths.
Rivers and Long have found heroin users to be honest about their addictions. They usually speak with offenders once they are stable.
“These are average people who made a few bad decisions that cost them a lot,” Long said. “Not only are they desperate, they are also depressed and remorseful. They are usually honest because they are past the hurting stage and are reflecting on what they have done.”
Police officers emphasize the importance of education and claiming responsibility for one’s actions. The Crawfordsville Police Department and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office educate local elementary school students through Drug Abuse Resistance Education and other drug courses. They hope to curb drug problems by teaching children about the effects of drugs like heroin, but they need help from families.
“Adults often forget kids are smarter and more capable of learning than they think,” Long said. “Through these programs, we need to make sure we don’t coddle kids. We need to teach them about real world situations and what they are going to encounter.”
Rivers has even been to scenes where young children have tested positive for heroin. He fears how much the drug can impact a family and a child’s future.
“It’s hard when families are affected,” Rivers said. “We have had several cases where child protective service agencies were involved. It’s sad.”
• Tomorrow’s feature will detail the ripple effect heroin has on families and loved ones.