Examining an epidemic: Community affected by prescriptions, street drugs

Daily Reporter A1 graphic

HANCOCK COUNTY — The stories cross every community, touch people of every income and background.

The Greenfield teenager sent to prison for working as the middle-man for a heroin dealer.

The mother who begged a Hancock County judge to put her in a local addiction treatment program — only to overdose on heroin and die days later.

The church bus driver who had cocaine in his system when he caused the wreck on Interstate 70 that killed a 6-year-old boy.

Story continues below gallery

We’re addicted and dying. And the signs are all over our communities.

Officers spend extra time patrolling neighborhoods after repeated reports of vehicle and home break-ins. Newly hired investigators focus solely on tracking down drug dealers — and it’s a full-time job.

Jail cells are packed beyond capacity, with so many stories sharing a common thread: I did it for drugs.

Social service agencies beg for residents to become foster parents, taking in children whose parents are in jail, on drugs or even dead.

Tormented families desperately try to get help for sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. In some cases, they plan funerals instead.


Few are left untouched by the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

In 2016, 42,000 Americans — or 115 people a day — died after overdosing on opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s more than the number of deaths from breast cancer and prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

In Hancock County, people are dying as often from drug overdoses as car accidents — some years, more frequently, county health department records show.

In 2014, seven people were killed in car wrecks in Hancock County. Fifteen died of drug overdoses. The trend continued in 2015, when accidents claimed nine people, and drugs took 16.

Nationwide impact opioids

In 2016, 10 died in crashes, and 10 died from drug overdoses.

Ten people died from overdoses last year as well.

For every 100 people in our county, 76 prescriptions for pain medications are written, flooding households with OxyContin and Vicodin pills that breed an addiction, or are stolen by addicted family members or thieves looking for a fix during a break-in, according to data from 2016.

The over-prescribing of Hancock County residents — and the nation — has been brewing for years.

In 2008, 99 pain medication prescriptions were written for every 100 county residents, state records show.Opioid prescriptions

According to the CDC, nearly 2 million Americans misused or were dependent on prescription opioid medications in 2014. And as many as 1 in 4 people who take prescription opioids long-term for pain not related to cancer struggles with addiction.

The number of overdoses continues to climb. In 2016, the number of deaths from opioid overdoses was five times higher than in 1999, according to the CDC. More than a half a million people died from drug overdoses from 2000 to 2015. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms across the nation for incorrectly using prescription opioids.


More worrisome still is the spread of potent synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, that police are finding more and more often. From 2014 to 2015, the number of times police have come across the drug has doubled. It’s those high-potency drugs that even Narcan — an overdose-reducing medication — has trouble counteracting in a single dose, the county’s EMS director says.

Fentanyl claimed the life of a Greenfield man who’d been to rehab three times trying to beat his addiction before he overdosed last year. His family found him in the bathroom Sunday morning as they were getting ready for church, the heroin — laced with fentanyl — discarded near the sink.

The CDC put out an alert about the spread of fentanyl in 2015, citing it as the reason for significant increases in recent years of opioid deaths.

Those dangerous drugs are here in Hancock County, tearing apart families and straining local resources.

They caused a Greenfield mother to beat her children for finding their presents and opening the packages before Christmas. She told police she was up late the night before, snorting Hydrocodone, washing it down with booze. Still feeling their effects the next morning, days before Christmas 2016, she told police she “just lost it.”

They left a 9-year-old girl to watch helplessly as her mother, in a drug-fueled rage, stab her father in the arm during an argument.

That girl would go on to sneak into a local recovery center for teens when she was just 11 — two years too young to visit the place and take advantage of its free services — looking for someone to listen to her, offer her help. She told leaders there what became of her parents. That her father’s since been sent to prison where he is trying his hardest to get clean; that her mother overdosed and died last year.

A 61-year-old Indianapolis man dumped his friend’s body in a park in New Palestine after she overdosed on heroin in the fall of 2015.

He told police he was frightened of what they’d think if they found her lifeless body inside his Jeep. He hadn’t realized she’d taken a fatal hit while they were driving around that afternoon, and when she passed out, he thought she’d just sleep off the high. He found her dead the next morning, panicked, drove to the first wooded area he could find. And then he left her.

An addiction to narcotics led a Greenfield woman to overdose while her newborn daughter slept in a bassinet a few feet away.

It took two doses of Narcan to revive her. When her mother found her, a bottle of formula sat inches from drug residue left behind. She says she knows she’s likely headed to prison, that her baby girl will grow up while her mother is behind bars.


Right now, treatment often is out of reach for people struggling with addiction.

In 2009, 23.5 million people needed treatment for a drug or alcohol abuse problem, but only 2.6 million — 11.2 percent — received it at a specialty facility, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Not a choiceAnd local families say the issues that make treatment more challenging haven’t changed.

For families with insurance, rehabilitation is within reach, but facilities are often out of state, and bills remain high even with insurance.

Communities are tasked with considering a range of options.

In Hancock County, inmates are offered injections to curb their cravings when they prepare to leave the jail.

Some offenders battling drug addiction have the opportunity to spend their sentence in recovery. The county pays for 90 days in an area halfway house for offenders to receive the treatment they so desperately need. It’s a fraction of the 12 to 18 months’ treatment recommended by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Greenfield every day inches closer to opening its first recovery house for women. The Talitha Koum Recovery House will serve women battling addiction who have nowhere else to turn.

It will have space for 10.

The CDC estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.

So the question is: what now?

For families struggling, local officials fretting, the economy suffering and the emergency workers rushing to help, the answer can’t come soon enough.

About this series

The worst drug epidemic in U.S. history touches every corner of our nation, killing our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones.

In the coming year, a Daily Reporter special series will examine the public health crisis of opioid misuse.

Addicted & Dying will bring you firsthand accounts of people still battling drug addiction and tell the stories of families who lost someone they held dear.

We will talk to those on the front lines — the doctors, first responders, addiction specialists and more — about the problem straining social service agencies, hospitals, the court system and the economy.

And beyond that, Addicted & Dying will explore what treatments and approaches work, what communities can do to help people in need.

Our series kicks off by exploring the depth of the problem in Hancock County.

Have an idea for our project? Contact us at dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.

Coming up

Drug addiction as a brain disease, not a moral failing

Overcoming the stigma

One woman’s story of breaking the cycle of addiction