With one person dead and others hospitalized after a surge in heroin overdoses, law enforcement agencies in south-central Indiana and other parts of the Midwest are placing residents on high alert for what they say appears to be a particularly potent batch of heroin.
The largest number of overdoses Aug. 23 in southern Indiana was in Jennings County, where as many as 13 people overdosed and one of them died.
Jackson County reported four overdoses, and Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said his office responded to one heroin-related call Aug. 23.
While the Bartholomew County overdose victim was hospitalized for heroin use, Myers said he was unsure if the incident was related to the Jennings County calls.
In another area of the Midwest, law enforcement officials in Cincinnati are trying to determine if their own spike in heroin overdoses is related to the situation in south-central Indiana.
Lt. Steve Saunders, spokesman for the Cincinnati Police Department, said Cincinnati emergency crews responded to 21 heroin-related calls on Aug. 23, with about 10 of them between 7 and 9 p.m. He said the total number of individual overdoses is likely higher than 21 because many of the calls that came in were about more than one person at a single location.
The Cincinnati Fire Department said that at least 34 individual overdoses were reported between 7 a.m. and midnight that day.
The Cincinnati daily average is about four heroin-related calls per day, but Saunders said that number has been slowly rising over the past week, culminating in the sudden surge of overdoses.
Life-saving doses of Narcan are being credited as the reason no one died in the heroin overdose cases in Bartholomew County and Cincinnati on Aug. 23, Myers and Saunders said.
Brown County Sheriff Scott Southerland said the heroin that comes to Brown County often comes from Indianapolis, and the county hasn’t seen this recent surge in overdoses.
However, that doesn’t mean any heroin use is safe.
It only takes one bad batch of heroin to create a surge in overdoses and deaths, Myers said.
Warning of drug dangers
As law enforcement officials across the Midwest try to piece together evidence that will help them determine the cause of the sudden wave of overdoses, they are taking to social and other forms of media to warn residents of the dangers.
The Seymour Police Department sent an alert to residents through its Facebook page at about 9:30 p.m. Aug. 23, posting a photo that read, “Warning! Heroin laced with fentanyl causing overdose deaths at an alarming rate. Please share this message so that others do not have to die.”
Cincinnati police put out a similar advisory.
“We do not know the exact cause of this increase, but we want to make your audiences aware of this spike in overdoses and warn anyone who may be using dangerous drugs to be aware of this increased danger,” the Cincinnati Police Department wrote.
Saunders said his department is investigating what substances were found in the heroin that was distributed throughout the city to determine why its effects were so potent.
Police in Seymour say they believe the batch of heroin that was distributed throughout south-central Indiana contained carfentanil, a type of fentanyl that is used as an elephant tranquilizer and is considered to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
Myers said the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department’s message remains the same as when the county saw a spike in overdoses earlier in the year: steer clear of heroin use at all costs.
Heroin-related deaths in Bartholomew County in 2016 have already doubled from 2015, with 12 so far this year, compared to six in all of 2015, deputy coroner Clayton Nolting said.
Jackson County has had five heroin deaths this year. Besides the one Jennings County fatal overdose reported Aug. 24, additional information on other drug fatalities in the county were not immediately available.