Between 2006 and 2010, heroin deaths across the country saw an increase of 45 percent, and Michiana was no exception to the trend.
St. Joseph County Coroner Randy Magdalinski has experienced the phenomenon first hand.
“In our particular county, the heroin deaths have been pretty steady of about 25 to 30 a year over the last two to three years,” Magdalinski said.
South Bend Memorial Hospital alone saw its heroin overdose cases nearly double from 2012 to 2013 -- from 47 to 89 separate cases.
And the issue isn’t unique to Indiana. According to the most recent data by the Michigan State Health Dept., heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled in the state from 271 during the years 1999-2002 to 728 deaths in the 2010-2012 period.
And it’s not just junkies that are getting hooked. The death of beloved actor Philip Seymour Hoffman showed the world that even the most high-profile celebrities can become victims of heroin addiction.
Hoffman was found with 70 baggies of heroin in his home and the syringe still in his arm.
“It circulates that drop of blood and they can’t even get the needle out of that vein and they’ve collapsed,” said John Sullivan, LaPorte’s County Coroner. “We've found many, many bodies of heroin overdose victims with the needle still in the vein or directly underneath them. And that’s how quick it is.”
It’s an addiction that doesn't discriminate -- from celebrities to junkies and everyone in between.
“i was always told it was real expensive,” Sullivan said. “But people can get what you and I would call a hit of heroin for 20 to 25 bucks.”
The average price per gram of heroin has dropped significantly since the early 1980’s. Area police point to a flow of heroin from Mexico to Chicago that’s brought to Michiana on the Toll Road.
“I’ve heard some of the police officers refer to U.S. 30 and the Toll Road and 94 as ‘drug runners highways,'” Sullivan said.
And the demographic is getting younger.
In 2012, Indiana college students reported that they used heroin in the last year at four times the national rate: .4 compared with .1 percent. That’s according to results from the Indiana College Abuse Substance Survey.
In St. Joseph County, drug related accidental deaths rose to 36 in 2013 from 26 deaths the year before.
Drug related homicides in the county rose to five in 2013 from two deaths in 2012.