leaders in law enforcement recently met with substance abuse experts and
local state senators for a roundtable discussion about working together to
combat opioid abuse.
The event was put
on by the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative (RALI) and the Indiana Sheriff’s
Association (ISA) at the Porter County Sheriff’s Department. In addition to
sponsoring the discussion, RALI donated 5,000 safe drug disposal pouches and
a $24,000 grant to the ISA dedicated to education and prevention at the
Those with seats at
the roundtable included Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds, Jasper County
Sheriff Terry Risner, Starke County Sheriff Bill Dulin, law enforcement
consultant for RALI Sven Bergmann, Dawn Pelc from the Porter County
Substance Abuse Council, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)
representative Penn Troy, and State Senator Ed Charbonneau and State
Representative Chuck Moseley.
of the ISA Steve Luce moderated the discussion.
Results So Far
said he wouldn’t say law enforcement is winning the battle against opioids,
they’re doing much better than they were a few years ago. Porter County’s
jail population has been decreasing--and so has recidivism. Deaths from
overdoses are also down, thanks to the availability of Narcan.
Reynolds said he
created a Heroin Overdose Response Team (HORT) within the Porter County
Sheriff’s Police that investigates all overdoses as crime scenes to
prioritize catching dealers. “We’re focused on cutting off the head, not the
tail,” he said.
Pelc said the
Substance Abuse Council has been testing some strategies, including
face-to-face talks with any providers who prescribe opioids about the
potential for prescription abuse and inviting them to participate in a data
collection program. So far, the Council has contacted 107 providers,
including those at pain clinics and veterinary offices, as part of the
initiative. “People get drugs from vets all the time,” Pelc said.
Porter County has
also instituted drug takeback days. Pelc reported the last collection netted
1,337 pounds of substances. Reynolds, outgoing Porter County Coroner Chuck
Harris, and outgoing County Prosecutor Brian Gensel have also recorded PSAs
warning of the dangers of abuse. The Council gets people in recovery to
record similar testimonials to be shown in schools.
Dulin said Starke
County has been focusing on reentry. A 14-week intensive outpatient program
(IOP) is available to inmates with addictions and the Starke County Jail has
a four-acre community garden tended by inmates. Starke County has also
formed a HORT.
One takeaway from
the discussion is that opioid abuse represents a far-reaching problem and
one that’s constantly in flux--its also one of the biggest problems in law
enforcement today and “the number one problem in our County,” according to
Reynolds. Risner and Dulin said the same of Jasper and Starke Counties.
County has approximately 35,000 people and Starke has approximately 24,000
people, the density of the problem is just as great there as in some larger
counties. Dulin said three calls in Starke County are related to opioids for
each one that is not. Both Risner and Dulin agreed younger demographics are
“This is something
that we see even in our small rural communities. It’s something that has
attacked our young people,” Risner said. “Lives are destroyed early on, and
it’s very difficult to get off the opioid narcotic once you’re on it.”
Reynolds said the
initial blame can be put on medical providers for overprescribing, but
solving the problem is beyond one entity and will require collaboration.
“Almost everyone in our jail has a substance abuse problem and they all have
their stories,” he said. “I’m a strong advocate for treatment. I’m not soft
on crime, but the answer is education and prevention. We will never get to
an answer until we reduce the demand for the drugs,” Reynolds said.
Troy said that
opioid addiction happens fast, and nobody is immune. “This could very well
be someone else’s problem today and be your problem tomorrow.”
Bergmann said the
Surgeon General has noted a rise in the use of synthetic opioids like
fentanyl and that those synthetics are responsible for an increasing amount
of overdose deaths. The opioid crisis has also developed in phases, Bergmann
said, progressing from prescription addiction to heroin use, and then to
fentanyl use, where it is today. Bergmann said, “My question is, what’s the
fourth phase? What’s the fifth phase?”
Pelc said the
opioid crisis has increasingly become a problem in schools, where children
and teens are exposed to the drugs at younger and younger ages. The
Substance Abuse Council has implemented programs for middle and high school
students, but Pelc said intervention in high school is often too late. “We
don’t have much funding for elementary programs, but we’re thinking maybe
fourth grade would be a good level to introduce these programs,” she said.
New Methods Needed
Risner said the
education and prevention should start earlier than many would imagine.
“You’re looking at third graders now that are needing education for a push
to be aware of the dangers this poses to their lives.”
Risner also had
some criticism for the ways prevention is currently addressed in Indiana.
“The D.A.R.E. program has failed to follow up on the narcotics culture and
some of the drugs we’re seeing come into the system,” he said.
“We see that mental
health is broken in Indiana. It is broken,” Risner said, equating the
breakdown of Indiana’s mental health system to something that’s been pushed
off a cliff, set on fire, and run over by a train. “Jails have become the
biggest mental health providers in the state.”
County Council allocated funds to employ a clinical psychologist at the
Jasper County Jail this year because of that, Risner said.
Reynolds also noted
the importance of considering mental health and other factors tied into drug
abuse. “If our number one problem is drugs, our number two problem is
domestic violence, and if you’re talking about domestic violence, you’re
talking about mental health and substance abuse.”
Troy emphasized the
need for supporting a variety of solutions. Troy recalled that scare tactics
in the 60s, “your brain on drugs” campaigns in the 70s, and ‘just say no”
have all singularly failed to stop the progression of drug use in the United
States. Troy said it has become clear that “There is no panacea for the drug
“We can’t legislate
our way out of it. We can’t imprison our way out of it. We can’t love our
way out of it, nor can we throw money out at it,” Troy said.
money without aim isn’t the answer, everyone at the table agreed more
funding and new, focused methods are needed to address the crisis.
Dulin said Starke
County is looking at starting a welding program and funding a vocational
training building on site at the jail. Dulin said he hopes to implement a
90-day reintegration program that helps inmates develop resumes, obtain
driver’s licenses, and even places them in jobs so they have a running start
when they leave. Solutions like that, however, take a lot of money that
isn’t currently being doled out for support after incarceration.
Reynolds says he’s
planning to focus more on reentry in the future, and he hopes that future
funding includes more support for reentry programs like the one Dulin
Pelc said the Substance Abuse Council just received a $375,000 grant that
will enable it to partner with Porter-Starke Services to offer mental health
training programs to members of the public over the next three years.
Teachers and first responders could especially benefit, Pelc said.
According to Pelc,
a big problem among opioid users is a lack of insurance that puts treatment
out of reach, so the Council is also working on funding entry into
treatment. Such a program would get people started and give them time to
secure insurance or Medicaid.
Moseley, for his
part, questioned funding priorities.
He equated funding
the jails at a much higher level than prevention programs to a reactionary
approach, and said legislators should ask themselves how much funding is
acutally going to proactive solutions.
“In my view and my
opinion, though you’re the experts, I’m guessing right now that we’re
spending more money being reactive than we could ever spend being
proactive,” Moseley said.