LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — An increase in the availability of cheap heroin is driving up its use in Indiana, forcing police officers to adapt their approaches and sending more overdose cases to emergency rooms.
The number of heroin cases has risen dramatically since 2007, and law enforcement officials fear the drug’s low cost — about $10 on the street for a tenth of a gram — could make that trend continue.
“You’re just as likely to run into heroin on a traffic stop tonight as you would be cocaine, probably even more so,” said West Lafayette police Lt. Troy Harris, who runs the city’s narcotics unit.
Marc Estes, chief of emergency medicine at IU Health Arnett Hospital, told the Journal & Courier his emergency room seldom saw heroin overdoses three years ago. Now, it handles one or two a week.
The hospital also sees patients with skin abscesses and skin infections as a result of heroin use, he said.
Authorities looking for ways to curb the rising use of heroin are changing their approaches to identify trends and try to stop the drug’s spread. Harris said police in West Lafayette have been able to get a handle on drug activity by getting information directly from addicts.
Some police departments, including Indianapolis and Portage, are equipping officers with a drug used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. Legislation signed by Gov. Mike Pence in March allows trained police, firefighters and other first responders to deliver naloxone or similar drugs to treat overdoses.
But drug dealers are adapting too and are using their own surveillance tactics to keep watch for the officers trying to track them down, Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington said.
“As they change their methods, we have to constantly change our methods,” he said.
Harrington said 33 heroin cases were filed in Tippecanoe County courts in 2013. There have been 10 so far this year.
“The statistics are not a reflection of how serious and how freely heroin is flowing in Tippecanoe County,” he said. “If we had double the number of drug task force members, I would anticipate that our numbers would double as far as arrests and prosecutions.”
Law enforcement leaders say that drug cases don’t just affect police or users and dealers.
“It’s not just something that affects them,” said Lafayette police Chief Patrick Flannelly. “It affects the whole community.”