- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - Heroin appears to have overtaken methamphetamine as the “drug of choice” in Madison County, local law enforcement officials said.

“The popularity and accessibility of heroin has increased three to four times in Madison County over the past three years,” said Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger.

Heroin is synthesized from morphine, which is extracted from the seed pods of poppy plants, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse.

In 2011, 4.2 million of Americans ages 12 or older had used heroin at least once in their lives, the institute reported. According to estimates, about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent.

Among the issues users face, Mellinger said, is that dealers will lace the drug for street use with other substances, including other drugs that may affect potency. And users will never be able to tell.

He estimates at least 75 percent of other reported incidents, such as personal injury and property crimes, are somehow related to drug addiction.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said that as late as 2012, Madison County was No. 2 in the state for meth labs. The county now stands at No. 20 in the state.

“It’s cheaper and the access to it is easier, especially in a community where there are fewer financial resources; they tend to gravitate toward the drug that’s least expensive,” he said.

Anderson Police Department Sgt. Chad Boynton, who was involved in a recent raid that resulted in several heroin dealing arrests, said many people’s addictions appear to start relatively innocently.

“We do know from a significant number of users that we encounter that a large percentage of heroin users become addicted after they’ve been prescribed prescription pain killers” for legitimate reasons, the 17-year APD veteran said.

“They start turning to street drugs after they’ve developed an addiction while under the care of a physician,” he said.

Boynton said heroin is so addictive that people who try it will quickly become “dope sick” after the high wears off, experiencing flu-like symptoms that include chills, vomiting and gastrointestinal problems. He suggested those symptoms will drive some users back to heroin use for relief.

He said users typically follow a pattern eating the drug, and then snorting it before moving to intravenous injections directly into the bloodstream, which produces the most intense effects.

Steve Richardson, program director for the Madison County Coalition against Substance Abuse, of which law enforcement and social service agencies are a part, said he’s seen significant growth in the use of heroin over the past year.

“What we surmise that has happened is the Drug Task Force has done a pretty good job with cutting down prescription abuse and prescription fraud through their efforts,” he said.

As a result, those who were able to get opiates like hydrocodone and Oxycontin through legitimate means now must acquire drugs through unlawful means, Richardson said.

It also doesn’t hurt that heroin is relatively inexpensive, he said.

Though the drugs are affordable for the user, their use is expensive to the community, Richardson said.

“We’ve also seen a very increased uptake in Indiana of armed robberies of pharmacies. It’s a matter of public safety,” he said. “It’s also a cost when people are not productive, are not paying taxes.”

The growth in the number of heroin arrests over the past year has stretched resources, Richardson added.

“We’ve always had pressures on our resources since the economy has suffered,” he said. “We’re constantly in a catch-up mode . But we are fortunate that we have a lot of organizations that are trying to address this problem.”

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin, http://bit.ly/1Trw91I

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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