GREENFIELD — Inmates with a history of drug abuse who are being released from the Hancock County Jail could soon be administered medication that blocks the high heroin and other opioid-based drugs create, officials announced this week.
Hancock County law enforcement and local stakeholders teamed up this week to host a community-wide discussion on the county’s growing heroin and prescription drug problems. A segment of the more than two-hour event focused on the recovery-centered programs local leaders want to implement, including an initiative that would require Vivitrol, an injectable prescription medicine that reduces the craving for opioid drugs and blocks their effects if taken, to be administered to some inmates a few days before their release from jail.
Details about the Vivitrol program, including which inmates would be included, are still being worked out, but sheriff’s department leaders said they hope to implement using the medicine in the local jail before the end of the year.
The announcement came during an event Tuesday at Greenfield-Central High School on hosted jointly by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, Hancock County Probation Department and Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse. The event, attended by about 50 residents, invited the public to weigh in on county’s ongoing drug-prevention efforts.
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Under the purposed Vivitrol program, inmates who have detoxed in the Hancock County Jail for at least seven days would be offered the medication upon their release, said Amy Ikerd, a crime prevention specialist for the Hancock County Probation Department. Those inmates would then be required to attend drug therapy and support groups as they utilize Vivitrol and work toward sobriety, she said.
The county has formed an advisory board consisting of officials from the local jail, probation department and community corrections program along with experts in local legal and physical and mental health industries to lay out specifics for the program. Those representatives will continue to meet in the coming weeks to finalize plans for the initiative, Ikred said.
Tuesday’s program opened with Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart, the department’s chief deputy, offering a few words about the work local investigators have done in the last year to get drug dealers, particularly those selling heroin, off local streets.
A year ago, the sheriff’s department hired an undercover detective to work solely on narcotics cases, and having that additional investigator among its ranks has nearly quadrupled the number of drug-related criminal cases filed, Burkhart said; 15 drug-dealing cases were filed in 2012 compared to 49 filed in 2015, according to prosecutor’s office records.
At the same time, overdose deaths have declined, Burkhart said. County officials cited an increase in overdose deaths as the primary reason to hire a narcotics detective, he said; after seeing overdoses rise from 14 deaths in 2012 to 21 deaths in 2015, overdose deaths have dropped to just six so far in 2016, Burkhart said.
Organizers also showed residents an hour-long documentary created by the FBI titled “Chasing the Dragon,” which featured first-hand accounts from a handful of heroin addicts from across the United States, each of whom shared stories of their drug use, their run-ins with the law and their struggle to get clean.
Many of the people in the audience Tuesday said they watched family members go through struggles similar to those outlined in the film.
Carolyn Cole of Greenfield said she watched the documentary with tears in her eyes. She and her husband, Gary, have seen a loved one go through those same troubles, and emotions came flooding to surface when she watched the situations play out on the big screen.
The Coles said they came to Tuesday’s discussion to find out more about the recovery and treatment programs available to Hancock County residents. After the presentation, the couple stuck around to attend a lesson on how to properly administer Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug, and receive a free dose of the medication from a representative from Overdose Lifeline, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization. They wanted to have it on hand, should that loved one suffer another overdose, they said.
Carolyn Cole said, while the event was informative and enlightening, she wished she could walk away feeling more uplifted — instead of facing the stark reality of a loved one battling addiction.
“That was our life up there in that video,” Carolyn Cole said, wiping tears from her eyes. “People need to realize (heroin) is here, in Greenfield.”