HANCOCK COUNTY — Drug overdose deaths are now at an all-time high according to some national statistics, and deaths are increasing fast in Indiana. Analysts looking at national data found there has been a 7% increase in drug-related overdose deaths in Indiana over the last year.

Federal statistics show that 107,477 people died nationwide of an overdose in 2022. Those statistics include 2,751 Indiana residents who died of an overdose last year. That’s an increase from 2021 stats compiled by the Indiana Department of Health which showed 2,554 Hoosiers died of a drug overdose.

Overdose deaths have risen more than 50% nationwide since 2019 and are now approaching 110,000 a year. Statistics also show, nationally and in Indiana, over 70% of the deaths were caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Official statistics from the IDOH say 15 people died in Hancock County due to any type of drug overdose in 2022. The local overdose numbers would be even higher if not for the administration of Narcan. The nasal spray is a potentially lifesaving medication designed to help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes and is used by local first responders on a regular basis.

Greenfield Police Department officials say they used 26 doses of Naloxone (Narcan) in 2022 on 17 different victims. They had nine victims who received multiple doses, either on the same incident or throughout the year. The numbers are slightly higher than 2021, when they administered 24 doses of Narcan to 17 victims. In 2020, they administered 17 doses of Narcan to 13 victims while in 2019 they administered 18 doses of Narcan to eight victims.

Deputy Chief Charles McMichael from the Greenfield Police Department said they’ve already had to administer eight doses of Narcan in 2023 on four different victims in order to save people from an overdose death.

“One victim received four doses during two separate incidents,” McMichael said. “Unfortunately, this person later died of a suspected drug overdose in another county.”

McMichael noted they have seen where people are administering their own Narcan to victims prior to law enforcement or EMS arriving on scene. While officials say it’s great folks are looking out for friends and loved ones who have addiction to opioids, it is critically important for people to know that the effects of Narcan are short-lived.

“Narcan does not eliminate the potential that someone could die from the opioid overdose,” McMichael said. “If Narcan is administered, the patient needs emergency medical care as soon as possible.”

Once the Narcan wears off, the person could still die if emergency care is not provided, so officials warn 911 should be called as soon as possible.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton is well aware the nationwide drug environment is difficult and continues to work with law enforcement and the courts to combat the problem locally. Eaton beleives that a failure to protect what he sees as a wide-open border that allows international criminal organizations to move massive quantities of narcotics such as fentanyl into the country every day is a real problem.

“The drugs that are most commonly used on the streets are not things that are produced in the United States. They are imported here and I do not believe that there has ever been a time when strong and lethal narcotics were more readily available nationwide than they are today,” Eaton said. “This is a crisis and it will be until there is help on the border.”

Statewide, Eaton noted Indiana has more miles of interstate per capita than any other state. Most of those interstates run through Indianapolis he said. It means 70% of the United States population is accessible from Indianapolis within about a one-day drive.

“Indiana’s capital city is a major drug trafficking hub,” Eaton said. “Drug traffickers like to use it as a hub for the same reason that companies like Fed-Ex and Amazon do.”

Eaton said Indianapolis has a higher per capita murder rate than Chicago and that drug and murder crimes are directly related.

“The current leadership in Marion County has not stemmed the tide of this crisis, and I believe has chosen to dismantle some of the tools and strategies that had protected central Indiana previously,” Eaton said. “The end result of all of that is that we are in a very tough environment.”

U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) spoke last week on the Senate floor about the ongoing crisis at the southern border and how the fentanyl epidemic is affecting Hoosier communities.

“The opioid epidemic is the worst drug crisis in America’s history; in the decades between 1999 and 2020, it killed over 564,000 of our countrymen and women,” Young said in a release. “The number of lives lost is so great it brought America’s life expectancy down to a 25-year low. And now, because of fentanyl, this crisis is growing worse.”

Young noted two milligrams of the synthetic opioid is enough to kill, and it is killing more young Americans than cancer, car accidents or COVID.

Beth Ingle is the coordinator of the Hancock County Circuit Court Drug Court program and noted it’s sad OD deaths are still on the rise, especially in a county with so many resources.

“We are doing our best to help our participants get the needed substance abuse treatment necessary to end that cycle and save lives,” Ingle said.

She noted the program always works toward improving the success statistics in drug court, but a meta analysis completed for the National Drug Court Institute (2016) stated, “The best adult drug courts were determined to reduce recidivism by 35% to 80%,” based on the graduates.

“Hancock County Drug Court is experiencing a 70% reduction in recidivism right now and our success rate is at 52% so, yes, we feel we are making a big difference in helping those who want to change their lives and end the cycle of addiction,” Ingle said.

They currently have 14 members participating in drug court, but six offenders are either waiting to be sentenced or are pending the resolution of another case before receiving admittance with seven others in the screening phase. The court is no longer under the Bureau of Justice grant restrictions, so they are able to consider more offenders than in years past.

“That is good for Hancock County in reducing recidivism and saving lives,” Ingle said.

Capt. Robert Harris of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department said that, with spring and summer coming, officials are afraid they will see more overdoses as people come out of hibernation.

“Unfortunately, it seems there is no end in sight for the opioid epidemic,” Harris said.

So far in 2023 they have had two overdoses where deputies had to administer Naloxone (Narcan).

“In both cases the person lived,” Harris said.

In the ongoing battle against opioid addiction, officials encourage people to properly dispose of unwanted or expired medication responsibly. They note nearly all police departments in the county have drug drop boxes.

“Greenfield PD has one in our lobby that is accessible 24/7,” McMichael said. “We only ask that no liquids or needles be placed in the container.”

Officials want to remind people to not flush medication down the toilet, but to turn them in to local officials who make sure the drugs do not fall into the wrong hands.