Heroin epidemic impacts public officials, community leaders

SCOTT COUNTY, Ind. — Austin, a small town in southern Indiana, drew national attention this spring when an HIV outbreak revealed a heroin epidemic across the state.

While media and officials flocked to Austin to report the news and document the phenomenon, those on the front lines worked to find help for their fellow citizens in need.

Those people included Dr. William Cooke and coroner Jerry Buchanan, who saw the fallout from heroin addiction in Scott County.

Dr. Cooke staffs an HIV clinic in the midst of Foundations Family Medicine. He has spoken to officials on the state level to get a needle-exchange program instigated. He told the Chicago Tribune that he also works in a Scott County emergency room, where he sees patients who have overdosed on drugs every shift he works.

According to the report in the Chicago Tribune, Cooke said that more than half the deaths in Scott County are due to IV drug overdose.

The heroin epidemic has also impacted other county officials who struggled with their own counties’ heroin problems. Those officials include Fayette County Sheriff David J. Laughlin, whose county has been battling heroin addiction for years, and Brown County Schools Superintendent David Shaffer, who chairs the Local Coordinating Council to address addiction in his community.

Sheriff Laughlin was in the trenches of the heroin scene when he was a detective, before being elected to his current post. He worked more than six years in narcotics and was on a multi-county drug task force.

Besides public and community officials, agencies have had to step up their programs to help those addicted to heroin and other drugs. Two such agencies include the Indiana Recovery Alliance, which focuses on harm reduction for those addicted to drugs, and Amethyst House in Bloomington, Ind.

Indiana Recovery Alliance is focusing on training emergency workers to use naloxone, also known as Narcan, when encountering a heroin overdose, which reverses the effects of heroin. The organization recently received a $100,000 grant for naloxone auto injectors.

Amethyst House offers both residential and outpatient rehabilitation for those struggling with addiction. Mark DeLong is executive director.

In September, the Indy Star reported that Gov. Mike Pence had organized a drug task force to pool the resources of the state and look at the problem with fresh eyes. In August, he also authorized hiring 113 more caseworkers to provide services to children displaced by heroin addiction.