Officials discuss heroin epidemic

Whitley County Prosecutor D.J. Sigler speaks on drug abuse issues in Whitley County during a Parent University meeting held at Mary Raber Elementary School earlier this month. The meetings are a partnership with Whitley County Consolidated Schools and the health department. The next meeting is 6:30 p.m. May 16 at Indian Springs Middle School. Nicole Minier

By Nicole Minier

COLUMBIA CITY — Local officials gathered earlier this month to discuss what they call a “crisis” and “epidemic” in Whitley County and surrounding areas — opioids.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain relievers, available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine.

Many attribute the recent heroin explosion to the over-prescription of pain medications.

“In the 1990s, pain became the fifth vital sign,” said Captain Kevin Hunter, of the Fort Wayne Police Department. “It started a bad trend for us, based on the idea that people can be pain-free.”

Hunter was one of several speakers at the Parent University, hosted by Whitley County Consolidated Schools at Mary Raber Elementary School.

Hunter indicated that most of the heroin in Fort Wayne comes from Mexico.

“With the legalization of marijuana, drug cartels had to make up for the lost profits — they made up for it in heroin,” Hunter said. “We have an epidemic.”

Drug poisoning deaths are now the leading cause of injury death in the U.S., more than car crashes and gunshot victims combined, Hunter said. Each day, more than 175 people in the U.S. die from drug overdose. Hunter said the majority of people who abuse heroin started with a prescription addiction.

“Most start by snorting it, almost all end up using a needle,” he said.

The Fort Wayne Police Department has encountered a much more powerful opioid – fentanyl. The drug fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. It was developed for pain management and treatment of cancer patients. The amount that can kill someone is as small as a few grains of salt, he said.

Carfentanil is a large animal anesthetic that is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. It has been found in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area.

Whitley County Prosecutor D.J. Sigler, who worked at the Prosecutor’s Office for 17 years, said he’s seen a “drastic increase in drug-related crim

“The horror stories you hear about in Allen County, with children and addiction, it’s happening here too on a smaller scale,” he said. “I don’t say that to scare you. I say it as a statement of fact. We want to pretend these things aren’t going on, but it is absolutely pervasive in our county.”

Andrea Salmon is the dean of students at Columbia City High School. The district started doing Parent University to get parents more involved in what’s going on in the community.

“I worry we’re not taking this seriously as a community,” Salmon said. “This is real stuff.”

This month’s Parent University, as well as next month’s Parent University, are put on in conjunction with the Whitley County Health Department.

The health department also offers free Narcan, an opioid reversal drug.

“If you know of anyone who you suspect is using drugs, or a friend you are worried about, contact us and get one of these Narcan to keep with you so you can use it to save someone’s life. You never know when you might be in the position to change someone’s life,” said Scott Wagner, of the Whitley County Health Department.

May’s meeting will be 6:30-7:30 p.m. May 16 in the Carver Center at Indian Springs Middle School. All are encouraged to attend.

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