Drug overdose deaths continue to plague region

2013-11-23T22:15:00Z 2013-11-25T11:20:25Z Drug overdose deaths continue to plague regionElvia Malagon elvia.malagon@nwi.com, (219) 933-3246 nwitimes.com
November 23, 2013 10:15 pm  • 

Just outside downtown Valparaiso, Steve sits in the living room of the Respite House and names more than a handful of his close friends and acquaintances who all died from heroin overdoses in the past few years.

Steve, who asked that his last name not be used, is back for the third time at Respite House, trying to get clean. He's seen the deaths and knows the dangers of heroin. Yet it somehow keeps luring him back.  

"It's like a love affair gone bad," he said. "You get with them and break up, but you can't stop thinking about them."

Just last year, four men who once sat in that same living room died of drug overdoses.

Porter County officials say they continue to see an alarming rate of drug overdose deaths.

According to a study released last month by Trust for America's Health, drug overdose deaths have quadrupled in the state since 1991. The study ranked Indiana the 17th highest state in drug overdose mortality.

As of mid-November, Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris said, 15 people have died from heroin overdoses this year. Last year the county had nine heroin-related deaths.

In 2012, Porter County had 34 overdose deaths related to all drugs, Harris said. This year the county has had 30 fatal drug overdoses. 

The rise in heroin overdoses alarmed Porter County officials so much earlier this year they issued a rare advisory on how to safely use the drug because of a batch that was not mixed well. Officials said that bad batch was linked to some of this year's deaths.

The problem extends beyond Porter County. LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan has counted 10 fatal heroin overdoses this year. Last year 14 people died from heroin overdoses. In 2011 and 2010, the county had 11 fatal heroin overdoses.

Sullivan said LaPorte officials are trying to decrease the deaths by cracking down on drug use.

"They are ramping up their investigations and trying to get to the root of the problem," Sullivan said.


Much of the national conversation on drug abuse in recent years has focused on prescription drug abuse. Northwest Indiana officials said the economics of street sales creates a link between prescription drug abuse and heroin use.

The first time Steve, 28, used drugs was when he was 16 years old and was going to a friend's party. He took a couple of pills from his parents' medicine cabinet without even reading the bottle. It wasn't until he told his friends what he did that he began to learn about the different prescription drugs.

Lita Peters, director of the Respite House, said every man who has stayed at the halfway house said they started with prescription drugs.

But prescription drugs aren't cheap. Peters said one pill can range from $20 to $50. 

Bob Taylor, Porter County Drug Task Force coordinator, said prescription pills are sold on the street, but heroin is still the cheaper option because a bag costs $10.

Harris said heroin's prices have continued to fall since 2011, and today it costs as little as a six-pack of beer. 

Steve said his drug of choice is Ecstasy, but his addiction and legal problems have all circled around heroin. He bought pills off the street and even went to doctors to get prescriptions. Then he found a cheaper and stronger drug in heroin, Steve said. 


Taylor said he first started to notice heroin coming into the county in 1997. He said officials thought they had solved the problem years ago, but the recent overdoses of people in their 30s suggests the problem never went away.

"Unless you get help, you're not going to get off of it," Taylor said. "Treatment is as important as enforcement."

Taylor said it's important for people to seek help, especially if someone is on the verge of overdosing.

"In my younger days I would have arrested them," Taylor said. "If they are calling, I'm not going to make an arrest unless they have drugs with them. I want them to call and get help."

Peters and her ex-husband, Mitch Peters, opened Respite House in 2009. The halfway house allows men to stay for six months while they find a job and participate in addiction classes. The house keeps strict rules, and anyone who fails a random drug test has to leave immediately.

Last year four former clients relapsed so severely they overdosed. 

Peters said there aren't many detox centers in the area, which means many continue to use drugs and desperately turn to crime. 

"A lot of these people are detoxing in Porter County Jail," she said. 

Steve said he wanted to stop using drugs several times. He moved to Georgia, started going to church and tried to check himself into a local hospital to detox. It wasn't until he was arrested in Porter County that he was able to detox. 

He began living at Respite House earlier this month and said he likes the environment. He recently sat quietly in the house's living room with a 12-step program book and his journal. He believes miracles happen at the halfway house but knows the road to recovery isn't easy. 

"I can tell you that heroin is the devil," he said. "I'm still thinking about getting high."

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