On October 20, Michael DeLeon from the not-for-profit Steered Straight, Inc. out of New Jersey came to Danville to discuss the drug epidemic that is sweeping our nation and leaving no stone -- or small community -- unturned in its wake.
During his 90-minute presentation to parents at West Bridge Church, Mr. DeLeon sought to bring awareness to the drug problem by way of his perspective as a recovering addict and violent felony offender who served more than a decade in prison in New Jersey.
Since I have 15 years of past experience as a probation officer -- 12 of those years were here in Hendricks County -- I want to reinforce some points that Mr. DeLeon made in his presentation and offer my own local perspective, lest his message be lost on those who dismiss it based on his criminal history or the fact that he doesn't live here.
First and foremost, drugs are in Hendricks County.
Heroin is in Hendricks County.
As Mr. DeLeon stated, thinking there is no heroin or any other type of drug in Hendricks County or in your little community, or that your precious little angel would never do drugs is naïve and foolhardy.
As in 12-step programs, the first step toward recovery is admitting that we have a problem. And we certainly have a problem.
Indiana, We Have a Problem
According to an Indianapolis Star article in June, Indiana ranked No. 15 in the United States (and not in a good way) in drug overdoses between 2011 and 2013 -- averaging a rate of 16 overdose deaths per 100,000 population.
Considering that Indiana's population was estimated to be about 6.6 million in 2014, that's a staggering number of overdose deaths in our state: right around 1,056 people per year, if my math is correct.
Between 2009 and 2011, Indiana ranked No. 20 in the nation with 13 overdose deaths per 100,000 population. So the problem is getting worse over time.
According to the article, drug overdoses have overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related deaths in our nation. The same holds true for Indiana, according to an Indiana State Department of Health special emphasis report (graph from that report below).
Hendricks County, We Have a Problem
In April, a Plainfield Police Sergeant identified in a WTHR.com article as Todd North -- but who I suspect is actually Sgt. Todd Knowles -- told the news station, "Heroin has taken over. It is an epidemic. We deal with it probably on a daily basis."
In the same article, Hendricks County Judge Mark Smith added, "It does surprise me to hear folks -- even with all the media coverage -- still express how surprised they are that we do have a heroin issue in Hendricks County."
Hendricks County law enforcement, according to the WTHR article, rarely goes a week without dealing with a heroin overdose. In 2014, there were 20 heroin overdose deaths in Hendricks County.
This problem didn't just show up overnight. Prescription drugs -- primarily the highly-addictive family of pain-killing drugs called "opiates" or "opioids" that includes Vicodin, Oxycontin, Demerol, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Percocet, Methadone, Suboxone, Roxicet, Lorcet, Morphine and others -- have been abused in Hendricks County (and beyond) for years.
One of my duties as a Hendricks County probation officer was to keep track of the drug screen results from the entire office. We went through a period of time in our area when meth labs were exploding or being found by law enforcement every time you turned around. Not surprisingly, positive drug screens for methamphetamines went through the roof in our office during that time.
But shortly after it became a total pain in the hindquarters to purchase a box of allergy medicine at the grocery store, positive drug screens for opiates took off as people started getting addicted to and/or high on prescription medication. It was a lot easier to steal Mom's Vicodin pills out of the bathroom cabinet than it was to score or cook meth.
In Indiana, opioid pain relievers are the second-leading cause of drug-related deaths -- trailing only "other and unspecified drugs," some of which may be opioids.
By 2012, heroin had made its way to No. 3 on the list.
The next logical step was that heroin would soon move in to Hendricks County. Heroin is a more powerful opiate than most prescriptions, and as soon as it became cheaper and easier to get than prescription opiates, we'd have a heroin crisis on our hands.
That crisis has arrived.
As Villagers, we have to get the "we don't have heroin or other drugs in our little community" thought straight out of our heads. Mr. DeLeon is correct: it's here.
So can we all now agree that we have a significant problem with drugs in Hendricks County?
Good. Now we can start focusing on our recovery.
What Can We Do?
As Mr. DeLeon pointed out during his Steered Straight presentation, the drug trade is just like any other economic model: it requires supply and demand.
Law enforcement's job is to disrupt the supply.
Our job as parents is to disrupt the demand.
Here are my top suggestions on how to do that:
This, of course, is not an exhaustive list of suggestions, but it's a good place to start. Mr. DeLeon's PowerPoint presentation offers a lot more suggestions, and you can either access it at SteeredStraight.org or download it below.
If, at any point, you discover that your kid is using alcohol and/or drugs, get professional help. Don't keep it hush-hush because of embarrassment or fear of what other parents might think of you. That's just vanity getting in the way of getting your kid the help s/he needs.
The Hendricks County Probation Department has a list of local substance abuse counseling providers on their website (under the "Useful Links" tab) that you can download completely confidentially and without being involved in the criminal justice system. It's worth the cost and inconvenience of treatment to save your kid's life, isn't it?
We have a serious drug problem in our county, Villagers. Now that we've pulled our heads out of the sand and admitted our problem, let's start working together to overcome it.
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