LAPORTE | A 19-year-old woman from LaPorte, who was to receive her high school diploma this weekend, has died from a drug overdose, primarily heroin, police said.
The death of Shawna Keller has local authorities calling attention to an already major problem they believe is becoming worse.
LaPorte Police Chief of Detectives Adam Klimczak said heroin use has been on the rise here the past few years, and, despite law enforcement aggressively going after dealers, the drug seems to be gaining in popularity especially for those in their teens and 20s.
"A whole new group of younger kids are getting involved with this drug that can kill them the first time they use it," Klimczak said.
LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan called heroin the biggest overall issue facing the city and county.
"This is an ever-increasing problem in LaPorte. Anybody that says it isn't, then they got their head in the sand,'' Sullivan said.
Sullivan said it appears the woman went to Chicago on Saturday with friends to get some heroin and wound up in a hospital there from possibly overdosing.
After leaving the hospital, she was dropped off at her Fox Street apartment, where her mother later found her dead.
She was lying just inside the doorway in the living room area.
"It's beyond sad. She was a beautiful girl. She just went to the prom last weekend, and now they have to make arrangements to bury her," Sullivan said.
Klimczak said especially risky is when a user of diluted heroin unknowingly receives pure heroin.
Without a high tolerance, pure heroin once in the bloodstream can stop the heart almost instantly.
"It kills you right there," Sullivan said.
Sullivan, who is also a firefighter and emergency medical technician, said he has responded to numerous overdoses where victims had not been unconscious for long periods, and, when given an antidote, their lives were saved.
"Stay away from the stuff. I say it's probably the most critical problem we face in our community," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said more than one drug was found in Keller's system, but heroin was the predominant substance detected in her bloodstream.
According to her obituary, Keller graduated from LaPorte High School this spring and would have received her diploma in the upcoming Sunday graduation ceremony.