Chesterton Tribune



Sheriff: Porter County doing better but not yet winning war on opiods

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Northwest Indiana 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 County level.

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.

Executive Director of the ISA Steve Luce moderated the discussion.

Results So Far

Though Reynolds 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.

An Ever-changing Problem

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.

Though Jasper 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 hit hardest.

“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.”

Jasper County’s 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 epidemic.”

“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.

Though throwing 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 discussed.

Looking forward, 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.


Posted 1/2/2019






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