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Editorial: Battling cycle of drugs needs community effort

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In just more than a month, four heroin-related deaths have been reported in the Columbus area. But don’t think that Johnson County is exempt from this growing menace.

Local police say heroin is becoming an increasing problem due to its low price compared to other similar drugs and wider availability. Sheriff’s deputies working undercover have purchased heroin seven times so far this year, compared with three times in all of 2012.

Arrests and people charged with dealing cocaine or narcotics also have exceeded 2012 totals, and officers have arrested more people for illegally carrying syringes used to shoot drugs, such as heroin or bath salts.

Police are reporting an upsurge in heroin-related arrests. Greenwood Police Department Assistant Chief Matt Fillenwarth and Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox both have said many recent burglaries are a result of drug users seeking easy-to-pawn items in order to feed drug habits. And in many cases, that drug is heroin.

In Indianapolis, police report that they are averaging 20 pounds a month in heroin seizures. Two years ago, it was one pound a month. Local police are reporting that an increasing amount of the drug is moving south from Indy.

Users can buy a dose of heroin for $10, about a third the cost of a single pill of prescription painkiller OxyContin, and get a more powerful high, police said. But heroin is more addictive and more dangerous, leading to thefts to get money to buy drugs and overdoses that send users to the emergency room.

The reports come on top of the continuing spread of methamphetamine abuse. The meth scourge has drawn the attention of police, especially over the past decade as dealers and users alike have developed home-cooked methods of manufacturing the highly addictive substance.

Police departments in south central Indiana have set up special meth units charged only with investigating meth-related crimes or incidents. The law enforcement effort has yielded some impressive statistics. Indiana has one of the best records in the country for detecting and destroying meth labs, for instance.

Statistics like that can be a double-edged sword. It indicates that police are actively cracking down on a problem. It also shows that the problem is severe.

The looming threat of arrest and jail time has obviously not served as a deterrent to many who abuse or distribute illegal drugs. Many in prison today have multiple drug offenses on their records, an indication that addictions are stronger than the fear of being caught.

Statewide, the Indiana University Center for Health Policy reports that the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds in drug treatment who reported heroin use more than quadrupled between 2001 and 2010 (1.8 percent to 8.7 percent).

Regardless of the cycle for the drug of choice at any particular time — heroin, meth, prescription drugs, cocaine, marijuana, even alcohol — there obviously is no one simple and quick solution to the problem of addiction.

One thing seems to be clear, however. Law enforcement alone will not be able to end a scourge that has taken too many lives and shattered too many families. The response must come from the community as a whole.

A public-private effort is needed to combat the growing prevalence of heroin use and drug abuse in general. Major members of such a coalition would include law enforcement and courts personnel, representatives of the health care community and particularly Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County, and the United Way, which helps funds a variety of agencies that are dedicated in whole or in part to reducing and treating drug use.

This group then would break into subgroups to address specific problems and to look for strategies to combat or alleviate those problems.

Finally, public education would continue to be the major weapon in this fight. The entire community needs to recognize the problems and commit to the solutions.

Law enforcement can be aggressive in fighting the problem, but as long as there is an appetite for these types of drugs, the issue will go unresolved.

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