NewsPublic Affairs / July 9, 2014

Indy Searches For Answers To Heroin Problem

Sam Klemet
Indy Searches For Answers To Heroin Problem

Last year, 110 people died in Indianapolis from heroin overdoses.

The drug continues to be a growing concern for public safety and medical officials, as well as the general public.

Wednesday, the community gathered on the city’s northside to discuss what is happening and how to fix it.

Denise Milburn is a nurse for St.Vincent Hospital, but also a mother looking for answers.

Her 23-year-old daughter is currently sitting in the Marion County Jail, the result of her addiction to heroin that she has battled for the past five years.

"I think it's a very big problem for the city," Milburn said of heroin.  "Obviously with my child being in jail now everyone that pays taxes is supporting her and if she is homeless and stealing from people then it continues to be a problem."

"They are starting to look at it and people are realizing how big of a situation this is," she added.

Milburn was one of five panelists who spoke with a packed room at St.Vincent. She told the group that she is actually happy to see her daughter locked up, because she knows it’s the one time she is clean and not dead.

"Heroin destroys the family. It takes away all the trust that you have with that child, your brother, your sister, whoever it should be.  It's everywhere," she said. "It changes everything that you do with them.  You can't be the same person.  They are no longer your child.  They are a heroin addict."

Dr. Michael Kaufman also spoke to the crowd and says the recent spike in heroin use is the result of addiction to prescription medication. 

Once people can no longer get a script or can’t afford those pills, he says they turn to the cheaper alternative, heroin.

"Americans make up about five percent of the world population, yet we consume 80 percent of the world's opiates that are manufactured and produced," he said.  "For every one death that we see from opiate overdose, there is 10 treatment admissions for abuse.  There are 32 ER visits for misuse or abuse.  There are 130 people who are dependent on that drug and 825 people who have taken the drug for recreational purpose."

For about an hour and a half, families shared their stories and asked questions about what needs to be done to reverse the trend.

IMPD Deputy Chief Bryon Roach says attacking the problem requires a three-pronged approach.

"Education, through enforcement, and probably the third way is getting the word out, awareness," said Roach.

Roach says steps by the medical community to regulate prescription drugs will help.   He also says there is a new state law that allows first responders to administer a drug known as Narcan to neutralize the effects of heroin when someone is overdosing.  He thinks that too will make a difference.

But, he says more needs to be done at the federal and state level and if not, the issues with heroin won’t go away.

"A lot of our crimes are occurring because of the addiction.  Not just of heroin, but prescription drugs, opiates in general," he said.  "As crime increases, people are less likely to come to our community.  They see it as a place where burglaries occur often or they can't leave something in their car without getting it (stolen).  That has an economic impact on all of us."

"All crime has an economic impact and heroin seems to be having a greater impact on Marion County."

But Milburn, whose daughter has been in and out of rehab, says there are often hurdles in getting treatment for those who are addicted, especially when it comes to insurance coverage.

"Whether you have insurance or you don't have insurance, it becomes an issue," she said.  "Because with insurance you are guided by what you can and can't have.  Financially it's a big struggle because you pay all the deductibles.  You pay for drug classes, for drug testing, for medication.  The cost is phenomenal."

"I can't even tell you how many thousands of dollars I've spent towards rehab and trying to get her help."

So, she hopes conversations like the one Wednesday shed light on the city’s heroin problem and spurs dialogue and actions that result in solutions for families like hers who are grabbling with the drug’s impact.



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