While Michiana’s heroin death toll continues to rise, many say the biggest battle is overcoming addiction while users are still alive.
Addiction specialists agree - it’s a drug that pulls users in like few other substances can.
“The reward in the brain is very quick,” said Pam Forsey, therapist at South Bend’s Crossroads Counseling. “Usually within 10 minutes, it crosses the blood barrier and then the person is high so they get some euphoria.”
County coroners like John Sullivan of Laporte say the hook can come quickly.
“The first dose of heroin is the one that clinches you,” Sullivan said. “And that’s what the heroin dealers are hoping for.”
It doesn’t hurt that the drug has become much more easily available, especially for Michiana’s younger population.
“I ask a couple of kids how easy is it to get heroin, and these are high school age kids,” he said, “They said, ‘Mr. Sullivan, it’s easier to get heroin than it is to get a pack of cigarettes.’”
And many of those users start their heroin habits by getting addicted to prescription pain pills.
“They get started on pills,” Forsey said. “It seems socially acceptable sometimes.”
But those pills are expensive and soon a cheaper alternative presents itself.
“Unless someone has a prescription and they’re marking them up and they’re selling them. And then heroin is a lot less expensive so that becomes an alternative,” she said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 in 15 people who take non-medical prescription pain relievers will try heroin within 10 years.
And Forsey says friends and family members often miss the signs of addiction once it turns into serious heroin use.
Aside from the obvious needle track marks, there are also less blatant indicators.
“I think it could be weight loss, it could be money being spent that’s not accounted for, time away from home that’s not accounted for, a kind of lethargic look,” she explained.
According to St. Joseph County Coroner Randy Magdalinski, when it comes to investigating the scene of an overdose -- sometimes friends and loved ones will intentionally ignore the signs, or even flee the scene.
“Sometimes evidence has been removed prior to police getting there because they don’t want to get in trouble for being involved in the use of drugs,” Magdalinski said.
But he says it’s vital for those witnesses to call 9-11, even if they’re going to run.
“If you’re with someone who goes out and unfortunately takes heroin, you know that they’re going to need help,” he said. “Save their life. Make that 9-11 call. And if you’re afraid to stick around and you’re going to hit the road, at least call 9-11 before you do because you’re going to be the only person to save that life.”
Forsey says it’s possible to overcome any addiction through counseling but support is crucial.
“I think when people try to do it on their own they may succeed but as far as long term prevention of a relapse, I think it’s pretty hard to do unless a person has the tools to stay sober, to stay clean,” she said.
Forsey recommends immediate detox followed by therapy groups. There are several places in the Michiana area that addicts -- or their loved ones -- can go to for help.
Some options to look into include the in-patient facility at Michiana Behavioral Health in Plymouth and Oaklawn Community Mental Health Center.
For users who can make the trip to Indianapolis there is Fairbanks Addiction Treatment Center and many more centers in the Chicagoland area.