By Allie Nash
NOBLESVILLE, Ind. – Local, state and federal law enforcement told a congresswoman and a state senator on Tuesday that Indiana has a growing problem with heroin addiction and deaths.
Officials from Madison, Marion, Hartford and Hamilton counties were among those who came to a listening session in Noblesville hosted by U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th District, and state Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis.
“I was really pleased at the diversity, the experiences, but there was a common theme that I think came out,” Brooks said. “It reinforced what I suspected that prescription drugs are typically the gateway for heroin use and abuse and we don’t as a society and community recognize how early prescription drug abuse can start with out children.”
Representatives of drug-free organizations and pharmacies also attended the event.
Those who testified during the 90-minute session focused on problems with prescription drugs and heroin, a new heroin antidote, education and prevention programs, and a change in the state’s sentencing laws that took effect Tuesday.
Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings spoke out against the change in sentencing for drug dealers.
“Drug dealing is a level four sentencing, which is all suspendable, unless you have guns, gangs and children they aren’t serving much time,” Cummings said. “I understand lower penalties for drug dealers, but real drug dealers are getting four years and that’s absurd.”
The change is part of a larger effort to reform the state’s sentencing laws so that some drug crimes result in less prison time while most serious offenses – including rape and murder – lead to more time in prison.
One goal is to give judges more flexibility to send drug users to treatment or other alternative sentencing programs in communities. But the state hasn’t fully funded those yet and local officials say that will be necessary to help solve problems with heroin and other drugs.
Rodney also told Brooks and Merritt that his community is third in the state for overdose deaths.
And in Marion County in June alone, 84 people have been treated at the jail’s treatment facility for heroin withdrawal. And between January and June, the same treatment facility saw 28 pregnant inmates suffering from heroin withdrawal.
Brooks and Merritt also asked local officials whether they were having success with drug courts and programs focusing on treatment. But many county officials say they’re only at the beginning stages of using that system. Officials said they could not yet provide data on whether they are effective in helping combat drug addiction and drug crime.
Gary Ashenfelter, with Indiana drug enforcement association, said heroin use and dealing has become a generational issue.
“We are seeing third and fourth generation dope dealers,” Ashenfelter said. “They see how their parents live and they want that now. Why would these people want to get jobs?”
“It is a generational thing to think: How easy can I get it And if I can’t get, it the government will pay for it, ” he said. “These people have no jobs, they have to sit around and think about something. They are thinking about how they can get around the system and abuse it.”
Ashenfelter also said that he thinks that that marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin.
“I have never met a junkie that didn’t smoke pot,” he said.
And while Indianapolis Metro Police Department Chief Ridk Hite said that drug dealers are selling weed to get enough money to get into heroin. But another official said that the gateway drug to heroin is prescription pills.
Merritt said that he hopes to have another session like this one with educators to get their input on the problems.