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Indiana heroin explosion strains commonwealth resources

Indiana has a shockingly serious heroin problem, straining treatment and law enforcement resources.

In May 2014, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., testified before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control that Indiana has become the "very epicenter of heroin addiction in Indiana and in the nation."

The senator issued a press release detailing his testimony about the desperate situation in Boone, Campbell and Kenton Counties, those Indiana counties bordering the Cincinnati, Ohio, metropolitan area. There and across Indiana, law enforcement and medical resources are stretched to the breaking point in attempting to handle the fallout from the steep rise in heroin use.

It is widely reported that many who become addicted to opioid prescription painkillers are making the leap to cheaper, easier-to-obtain street heroin, an illegal opioid (poppy-based) narcotic reminiscent of the 1960s era, but now sought by people in all walks of life.

Heroin can be ingested many ways and produces not only a euphoric high, but also a stubborn addiction that is difficult and expensive to treat. From a medical standpoint, heroin can be lethal and cause many severe health problems.

The senator's comments

According to Sen. McConnell:

  • Indiana ranks third of U.S. states in its rate of fatal drug overdoses.
  • The Indiana Chamber of Commerce reports 61 fatal heroin overdoses in 2012 in these three counties; and the rate of acute hepatitis C (largely tied to the sharing of needles used to inject heroin) is a whopping 24 times higher here than nationally.
  • The Indiana Drug Strike Force says that in these counties drug charges related to heroin making it to court increased 500 percent from 2008 to 2012.
  • In 2011, these three counties had 10 percent of the state's population, but 60 percent of heroin prosecutions.

The senator supports "a combination of both treatment and incarceration" as the solution. Indeed, his testimony was part of an effort to involve federal resources in Indiana's heroin fight.

From a treatment perspective, Indiana has a long way to go. For example, The Courier-Journal (Louisville) cites the state attorney general's office for the figure that the commonwealth has only 10 percent of needed treatment capacity.

The article says that the Louisville jail has 30 to 90 detainees daily in heroin withdrawal, requiring 24-hour staffing by nurses trained in detoxification.

Indiana drug court

The commonwealth of Indiana does have an established adult drug court program that promotes treatment and life stability over jail for certain eligible, nonviolent drug offenders. The program provides an intensive, supervised three-phase long-term treatment program to break the cycle of addiction and related problems.

Defendants successful in the program may have their charges dismissed or receive a conditional discharge of probation. This takes pressure off the regular correctional system, promotes healing, gives second chances and arguably saves lives.

Harsh criminal punishment

Heroin possession, distribution, sale, manufacture and related acts constitute several federal and Indiana state drug crimes. Punishment, sentencing and other negative impacts of drug crime convictions are severe and life altering: steep fines, years or life in prison, damage to reputation, inability to get certain kinds of work and more.

Therefore, any Kentuckian investigated for or charged with a heroin-related crime should seek the representation of an experienced criminal defense attorney to provide support, education and vigorous advocacy. A knowledgeable defense lawyer can investigate on the defendant's behalf, fight for his or her legal rights, negotiate with the prosecution if appropriate or strongly advocate at trial, if necessary.

In a state charge, legal counsel can seek to have an appropriate client admitted to the Indiana drug court program as a positive alternative to traditional punishment.

Keywords: Indiana, heroin, Sen. Mitch McConnell, addiction, opioid, prescription, drug charges, treatment, incarceration, drug court, punishment, fine, prison

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