ANDERSON — It’s been years since opioid addictions became a problem in Madison County and the rest of the state, and the number of people fighting addiction apparently isn't declining, according to local officials.
Dr. Andrew Skinner, medical director of the Anderson Center, said while he hasn’t noticed a change in the amount of drug abuse going on in the county, he sees heroin at the treatment center more frequently than prescription opioids. The trend is in part because prescription pills are harder to get with legislation tightening restrictions on prescribing doctors, and heroin is generally cheaper than its pill counterparts.
Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said he doesn’t think anyone actually knows precisely how many people are addicted to drugs in the county.
“I don’t think we honestly have any idea how many heroin or meth users we have in the county,” he said. “The best number we can come up with are people who can seek treatment or use the syringe exchange program (that has since ended).”
Increase in robberies
What the sheriff has noticed over the past four years is an increase in the number of robberies and burglaries, both business and residential, in which drugs are involved.
In January, two men committed armed robbery at Low-Cost Prescriptions in Elwood. One of the suspects was shot by an officer, while the other escaped and was arrested in April.
A gun along with prescription bottles were found by investigators outside the pharmacy.
An instance that came to Mellinger’s mind was the robbery of the Ricker’s convenience store on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Anderson in July 2016. When Ricky B. Zimmerman was apprehended after crashing his car following his armed attempt to rob the convenience store, Mellinger said he asked police to just shoot him.
The gun Zimmerman had happened to be a replica of a real gun. He told investigators he pointed the gun at an Indiana state trooper, who ended up shooting him in each wrist, because he wanted to die, according to court records.
Mellinger said these types of crimes have become more common with the lack of logic people addicted to drugs have. He encourages people to keep their cars and homes locked to prevent a similar crime from happening to them.
“The perpetrator, in other words, doesn’t seem to be too worried about what’s going on around him,” Mellinger said. “They are just in a desperate state. They will either choose to accost someone in broad daylight or (commit) several crimes in a three- or four-hour period.”
A need for treatment
Most local experts agree that there needs to be more treatment available for people addicted to drugs who would like help, especially for withdrawing from drugs. In order to begin treatment, the user has to detoxify first, which can take longer than a week.
With less than 20 detox beds in the county, users generally have to go through drug withdrawal at home or in the Madison County Jail if they are arrested. Even people who go through withdrawal in jail have a hard time getting into treatment once they leave the Madison County Jail, Mellinger said.
Stephenie Grimes, who ran the syringe exchange program through the Madison County Health Department until earlier this month, said she has had to look to other counties, such as Marion and Tippecanoe, to help people find treatment if they have Healthy Indiana Plan insurance, Medicaid or no insurance at all. Even then, it can take up to a month for her to get someone into treatment
Bridges of Hope opened a treatment center in February in Anderson, which provided 29 more treatment beds in the community, seven of which are just for detox. However, Bridges of Hope currently only accepts private insurance.
Aside from there being enough spots for people, there needs to be resources, such as health professionals, to help people get into treatment, Grimes said. Even for her, it can be tedious and difficult to navigate through the process of finding someone treatment.
Mellinger said he was excited to hear Fayette Regional Health System in Fayette County received a grant to open a 46-bed detox facility. He said he wishes something similar would be opened closer to home.
“I’ve just been disappointed that the appropriate entities haven’t come together to do some significant collaboration to put together a mental health and addictions facility,” he said.
Skinner said he has found some encouragement in the advances in the types of medically-assisted therapies he can use at the Anderson Center for treatment.
A Vivitrol injection can be given to addicts once a month to help with recovery. Suboxone has been given to patients in recovery for some time now, but Skinner is now administering an implant in the arm that can give the same type of medicine over time without the risk of abuse or having the medication stolen.
Skinner said ultimately, he thinks education and prevention strategies that actually work will be needed to help curb the opioid crisis.
“These need to be modern programs that focus on online media and give real and sophisticated information,” he said. “Scare tactics and ‘Just Say No’ are not helpful.”