‘A matter of life & death’


GREENFIELD — An initiative aimed at getting opiate addicts treatment as they serve time for low-level crimes is marking its one-year anniversary amid a plea for funding help from the county leaders who coordinate it.

Officials say the program — nicknamed “the heroin protocol” by those who manage it — has made a positive impact in the lives of the more than 20 people who have participated since last spring, each eager to start on the road to sobriety and leave their criminal histories firmly in their past. After pleading guilty to their crimes, offenders who enroll in the program are sent to serve their sentence in a halfway house rather than in traditional lockdown.

But funds that cover the first two weeks of an offenders’ stay at a halfway house — an essential part of probation’s treatment program, officials say — have dried up, and now local leaders are begging residents for donations to keep the program up and running.

Probation officer Amy Ikerd, who helped create the protocol and now oversees it, said she has only $500 in grant monies to fund the program through the fall. That’s enough to place just two more people in halfway houses — but there are 11 people currently waiting in the Hancock County Jail to join the program.

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The program was created last year as part of the county’s ongoing efforts to curb heroin and prescription pain killer addiction. Citing a need for local treatment efforts, Hancock Circuit Court Judge Richard Culver and addiction specialists in the local probation department teamed up to spearhead an initiative that emphasizes healing rather than punishment.

Offenders who submit to the program — a maximum of 10 are allowed in at a time — are required to spend at least 14 days in jail to detox before heading to a halfway house for at least 90 days, where they attend 12-step meetings, find a job and ease back into society while working toward a healthier life.

Eight people are currently participating in the protocol, serving their sentencing in halfway houses around Indianapolis. Each is required to check in with Ikerd regularly and are instructed to call her cellphone 24-7 if they need additional assistance.

Allowing addicts to participate in the program is risky, county officials admit: only seven of the 13 people who have passed through the protocol in the last year are considered to have successfully completed the program; six others violated probation and were rearrested and ordered to serve their sentence in jail or the Community Corrections work release, which allowed them to attend 12-step programs while being more strictly monitored.

Defining success is difficult when you’re dealing with addiction, Ikerd said; 50 percent might not sound notable, but breaking a heroin addiction comes with serious challenges. She wonders what would have happened to each of the folks she’s monitored if the county hadn’t stepped in to help; she worries some might have overdosed and died.

By offering to help treat the addiction, the county is taking a step to save a life while also deterring a person from committing further crimes, she said.

“When we invest in these people …if they never return to us, it’s a success,” Ikerd said.”

Those who participate in the heroin protocol are selected based on the crimes they’ve been accused of, officials said. Typically, the person has been caught with heroin or the syringe used to inject it, or they admit they were committing a crime to feed their addictions.

Fountaintown native Tyler Thomas, who was admitted into the heroin program earlier this week, said he was caught on camera in early November breaking into cars in Hancock County — a crime he said he only committed when he was high on heroin or Xanax.

In January he pleaded guilty to felony theft, but he sat in jail for weeks, waiting for space in the program to free up so that he could start his treatment, records show. Monday he moved into a halfway house in Indianapolis, and he’s slowly adjusting to his new way of life.

For the first two weeks of his stay at the facility, Thomas said he’s not allowed to have his car and cellphone; he’s not allowed to leave the building for any reason until early next month, when he’ll be able to look for a job after going three months without an income.

If it weren’t for the money — gifted to the probation department by Hancock County Mental Health Partners — helping him to cover the cost of those first few weeks, Thomas said he could not afford a room at the halfway house; his fight for sobriety would have been a second priority, coming only after he he got out of jail and tried to get back on his feet, he said.

Mental Health Partners has given more than $9,000 in the last year to help pay for the heroin protocol, said Kim Hall, the organization’s director.

On average, each offender receives about $250 from Mental Health Partners. After that, they must pay their own way through the remainder of the program.

Wayne Addison, who oversees the county’s probation department, said he’ll only go to the Hancock County Council to ask for taxpayer dollars to fund the protocol as a last resort. For now, his officers are searching for additional grand funding and asking for the community’s support.

Many don’t understand the hold heroin can have on a person, Addison said; without a support system willing to help them, many of the people who completed the program would have continued to use.

“We felt like this was a matter of life or death,” Addison said. “I’m sure there are people we’ve dealt with who would be dead if it weren’t for this.”

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Donations to Mental Health Partners of Hancock County will help further the Hancock County Probation Department’s efforts to help heroin addicts find treatment.

Checks can be mailed to Mental Health Partners at 98 E. North St., Suite 204, Greenfield, Indiana 46140. Donors should include instructions that the money is to be used for county’s heroin protocol program.

For more information, call 317-462-2877.

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County officials say a program — nicknamed “the heroin protocol” by those who manage it – aimed at getting opiate addicts treatment while they serve time for low-level crimes has made a positive impact in the lives of the more than 20 people who have participated in the last year.

13 people have completed the program since last spring

7 people were considered successful

6 people were considered unsuccessful

8 people are actively participating

11 people are waiting in the Hancock County Jail, hoping to be accepted into the program