Shelby County reporter tells story of what the heroin epidemic looks like in her county; it’s a problem in most of Kentucky

Submissions of samples with heroin have steadily increased since 2010 in the Kentucky State Police laboratory, going from 451 submissions in 2010 to 3,691 in 2015. Heroin ranks only behind methamphetamine, Tamara Evans reports for Louisville’s WDRB-TV.

KSP map; image via WDRB-TV

A 2014 KSP map shows that while heroin is primarily in the Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky areas, it has pockets all over the state.

One of those pockets is Shelby County, where Lisa King of The Sentinel-News reports on what that looks like on the ground in her community and what locals are trying to do about it.

Shelby County Emergency Medical Services Director Jeff Ivers told King there were three three heroin overdoses on the same day, Dec. 30, which was more than he had ever seen in one day. Two died and one survived.

The overdoses came on the heels of a heroin bust in the county where more than 7 grams of heroin was confiscated, King reports.

Fatal drug overdoses have been increasing in Shelby County, King writes. The county had five in 2014, two of them heroin-related, compared to 2015’s figure of 10, five heroin-related. In addition, there are five cases awaiting determination of the cause of death, with two of them “strongly suspected” from heroin overdose, according to the county’s chief deputy coroner.

Kyle Tipton, a sergeant with the Shelby County sheriff’s office, told King that police agencies and emergency responders are answering at least two calls per day for heroin overdoses from people of all ages and in every social and economic group. He said people are overdosing in both public and private settings.

“I don’t have a number,” he told King. “Some are fatal, but the majority of them are overdose illnesses. A good portion are related to heroin. All over the county, heroin is affecting people of all ages – men, women, teenagers… Basically, responding to an overdose is now a routine call for patrolmen.”

Shelby County Commonwealth Attorney Laura Witt said her office saw a huge increase in heroin cases in 2015, both in users and those selling the drug. She told King there was a 40 percent increase in cases last year, up 320 from 250 in 2014, and that many of those were related to heroin offenses. She said they were also seeing an increase in other crimes related to heroin, like thefts, burglaries and shoplifting.

Call for action

“So we have to appeal to parents right now to spend time with their children, notice the signs of addiction and don’t be afraid to seek help. Don’t wait until tomorrow; the time is now.” Tipton said.

“The common signs of heroin addiction is stealing, if jewelry or other items in the home come up missing, money, electronics, that could be a sign of an addiction. Also, track marks on arms, although that’s not the only way of ingesting it – you can snort it.”

Kelly McNew, director of Shelby Prevention, an organization that focuses on preventing addiction, mostly among youth, told King that she is putting together a parenting class that will focus on improving communication between parents and their children and will include some red flags for parents to look for when dealing with possible addiction. She is also planning another town-hall meeting to address the community’s challenges from heroin.

Renee Blair, county director of the North Central District Health Department, told King she is working on getting a needle-exchange program for addicts, but has not been able to make much progress yet. Needle exchanges were approved by the 2015 anti-heroin law and are meant to thwart the spread of hepatitis C and HIV and to provide counseling when the addict seeks it.

Tipton told King that it will take everyone in the community to combat this problem, including parents, the public, prosecutors, judges and health officials.

A place to go for help

Deputy Sheriff Mark Moore told King the heroin epidemic happened because of the government’s efforts to make narcotic pain pills harder to obtain. And the reason so many people are overdosing, he said, is because heroin is so unpredictable.

“With hydrocodone, you know what you’re getting because it’s laboratory-produced,” he said. “So the next time you get it, it’s the same as the one you had before. However, with heroin, you don’t know the potency, you don’t know what you’re getting. Are you getting a very weak dose that someone has already cut, or are you getting some that’s the real deal?”

Moore encouraged people who are considering turning to heroin because pills are too hard to obtain to think twice and offered the police department as a place to come for help. He told King that he realized people are afraid to come to the police for fear of reprisal from traffickers, but wanted people to know that if they want help, police are not going to try to force them to give information on traffickers.

“My plea is, if you know you have a pill problem and you think you’re going to get sick if you don’t have that pain pill, and you are considering going to heroin or you already have, don’t wait,” he said. “Contact law enforcement. We will hook you up with somebody, somewhere, to try to get you help.”

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