GREENFIELD — As part of its continued push to curb heroin use among the county’s residents, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department is inviting the public to a county-wide discussion on drug abuse and prevention.
The event, planned for Oct. 25 at Greenfield-Central High School, is meant to further inform residents about the opiate addiction problems many in Hancock County face, while inviting the public to weigh in on how best to further respond to the local heroin and prescription drug problem.
The upcoming program will feature a federally-produced documentary about heroin addiction, a panel discussion on the county’s ongoing drug-enforcement efforts and a public question-and-answer session about current enforcement efforts.
After going five years without a concentrated drug task force, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department announced last year it would hire an undercover detective to investigate drug cases, with its leaders citing an uptick in overdose deaths — a jump from 14 deaths in 2012 to 21 deaths in 2015 — as one reason for the additional hire.
Having a detective dedicated to narcotics investigations has more than tripled the number of drug-dealing cases filed annually, statistics from the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office show; just 15 drug-dealing cases were filed in 2012 compared to 49 filed in 2015.
But the drug use and the addictions it creates aren’t going away, said Hancock County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Rasche, who is organizing the upcoming event.
Now, police want to give residents a chance to weigh in on the enforcement efforts while hearing firsthand about the drug-related calls local police handle every day, said Rasche, who heads the sheriff’s department’s investigations unit.
“What we want people to recognize is that we aren’t immune to this issue,” Rasche said.
Rasche has assembled a team of local stakeholders, including representatives from local law enforcement, the Hancock County Probation Department, Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse, to participate. Representatives from Hoosier nonprofit Overdose Lifeline will give a brief presentation on Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug now available without a prescription in Indiana pharmacies. The organization has received a grant to pass out free doses of Narcan at the event to residents who sit through a demonstration on how to administer it, officials said.
Sheriff’s department officials will start the presentation by showing an hour-long video produced by several federal agencies in which families and individuals from around the country share stories of how heroin and opioid addictions have ruined their lives.
The film, titled “Chasing the Dragon,” was released by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration earlier this year for American law enforcement agencies to utilize in educating their communities about “a growing epidemic of prescription opiate and heroin abuse,” according to a news release from the FBI.
Though it gives a realistic look at the harsh reality of drug addiction, organizers caution the “Chasing the Dragon” film does contain strong language and some graphic images. Still, they believe its message is one the community needs to hear.
Opioids, including heroin and prescription pain killers, caused more than 28,000 deaths in 2014, national statistics show. That year, the drug-related deaths were highest among those aged 25- to 34-year-olds.
That’s the age group organizers say they are trying hardest to reach.
Tim Retherford, director of Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse, hopes the faces in the audience will include middle and high school students who will hear the warnings from police and choose to never pick up a needle or snatch a pill from their parents’ medicine cabinets.
“It’s important for them to know what they are potentially getting into,” Retherford said.
Amy Ikerd, a crime prevention specialist with the county probation department, will speak at the event about ongoing treatment efforts, including the probation department’s heroin protocol, which puts addicts in rehabilitation programs as a term of their sentences. She hopes parents and other community members who have faced addictions will feel empowered to talk about what recovery initiatives they believe would best serve Hancock County.
Recovery programs are lacking locally, Ikerd said. She’ll speak about the need for improvements, hoping the residents who attend will leaving what to push the issue further.
“I hope people will walk away with a better understanding of the scope of the problem,” she said.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department is hosting a public forum to discuss the county’s efforts to fight drug use and take questions and suggestions from the public. An hour-long film about heroin addiction, “Chasing the dragon,” will be shown as part of the presentation, which is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Oct. 25 at Greenfield-Central High School, 810 N. Broadway St.