Hamilton County united in fight against heroin

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence recently announced a new task force charged with tackling the “scourge” of heroin deaths. In Hamilton County, the mayors of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield all say they are sharply focusing on this rising statewide problem.

Pence has suggested a “fresh approach” is needed after Indiana saw 152 deaths linked to heroin in 2013, up from three deaths in 2003, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he hasn’t noticed such a rise in his municipality.

“I haven’t seen much of a change,” he said. “Carmel does not have a serious problem. Other areas of the state have a serious problem. But again one case is too many … Most of the abuse we see in the police reports is prescription drug problems.”

According to data collected by the Indiana State Police and analyzed by Indiana University, heroin cases in Indiana tripled between 2008 and 2013. Although it can be hard to determine how big the problem is in Hamilton County, Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen said he has noticed the heroin trend, and other officials anecdotally say it’s on the rise. But agencies like the Carmel Police Department do not categorize their drug crime reports based on the type of drug used, so concrete numbers on the scope of the issue are limited.

Brainard said it’s important to be proactive. That’s why he joined local judges and school officials to create the Carmel Youth Assistance Program (CYAP) in April to focus on preventative services for at-risk youth referred to the program.

There’s also a similar program countywide and Westfield Mayor Andy Cook said it is programs like these that help prevent youth from getting involved with drugs like heroin.

“I think as a county we are taking a very, very proactive stance on this issue and preventing this problem with our countywide youth assistance program,” Cook said. “It’s new, but we’ve already seen results. It will take some time, but we expect to see a great reduction.”

Bowen said the county is not immune to rise in heroin use in Indiana. He participated in a free forum for families in April, and speakers included Hamilton County/Boone County Task Force members, those affected by the drug and politicians such as State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis.

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said county courts can play a role in attacking the issue.

“One of the things that will be interesting to see is if our county judicial system and jail system will adapt to individuals with those types of issues and what types of solutions they’ll come up with,” Fadness said. “Law enforcement is historically one of the best examples of cooperation at the county level because we keep politics out of it.”

In any case, Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear agrees that the entire county can work to tackle this problem.

“Our police and law enforcement work very well together in the county,” he said. “We have a drug task force that is shared by all of us, and they probably do as good of a job as any agency.”

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