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Heroin Use In Porter County
A Silent Epidemic
Arizona State University
Heroin abuse has been on the rise in Porter County Indiana. The creeping danger this represents is only now being recognized. Porter County residents need to see the extent of the problem. Together we must act together to stop the increase in heroin use and abuse. The following will examine the considerable damage already occurring and offer a solution to stem the tide.
Heroin Use in Porter County, It Happens Here too.
Porter County Indiana is a quiet area. It is mostly middle class to upper class incomes, predominately white in residency. Valparaiso in particular – a charming college town - is seen as a very desirable place to live. What is simmering beneath the surface of this peaceful facade is a growing drug problem. Heroin use in Porter County is on the rise.
The Ugly Truth
Porter County is almost idyllic from the other side of the county line. Lake County, which contains Gary, looks to Porter County as something to aspire to someday. There are lots of quaint neighborhoods. Bike paths and sidewalks, turnabouts and ample parks dot the horizon. Meticulous landscaping and ostentatious holiday decoration is normal here. What is not seen is what is happening behind closed doors. According to Stephanie Schmitz-Bechteler (1995) "Reported monthly use of heroin by high school students increased over 700 percent ....from 1993 to 2004" This is a startling number. Furthermore Ms. Bechteler notes "The percentage of individuals testing positive for opiates in the Porter County Adult Probation population increased 561 percent" in the same timeframe. These are numbers that cannot be ignored.
Deaths in Porter County due to heroin use is on the rise as well. Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris reveals that the deaths from heroin rose from 9 in 2013 to 16 in 2014. He also predicts this number to rise in the future (2015). This is the worst possible outcome for an addict and one that many will see if their heroin use continues unabated.
There are smaller disturbances due to heroin use. Just a few weeks ago, a child riding her bike noticed a sock on the side of the road and inexplicably picked it up. She was pricked with needles that were hidden inside. She has since been taken for testing, results were not released. A bus driver then found quite a bit more. Bob Kasarda reports that 60 were found in all. (2015). No parent wants their child to find random drug paraphenalia potentially infecting them with various diseases. The trauma of having to be tested alone is bad enough. Rampant drug use will only lead to more carelessness of this nature.
Crime attributed to drug use is a natural eventuality. Car break-ins have been very common in the last few years. House break ins, even daytime robbery have been popping up. Not all these crimes can be attributed to heroin use specifically, however one can extrapolate that the need to "fix" would lend itself to crime to feed the habit.
Where can we find solutions?
The most common methods of combating drug use is of course, jail. Punitive measures for buying, selling, using, possessing are all commonplace. Arrests in Porter County for heroin related crimes has risen over 700 percent from 1994-2004 (2005) While the drug users are certainly breaking existing laws, is it the best choice to punish one for an act that for now is beyond their control? Rehabilitation is the other course of action for a drug addict. This is generally voluntary but sometimes mandated.
I believe the best solution for the heroin problem in Porter County is increased rehabilitation services. Giving an addict a chance to straighten themselves back to a productive member of society and a healthy life would be far superior to jailing them indefinitely. Carmen Pearman-Arlt, Director of Chemical Dependency and Addiction at Porter Starke Services Inc. (2004) stated "Drug addiction demands much more time to heal (than 28 days). Some people have been using for years and it may take years for them to change the way they think, the way they behave, and the way they live". This speaks to much more than even long term residential treatment centers. To this end, I propose that the city take over the abandoned homes for both residential and outpatient drug treatment options. Abandoned homes are a magnet for crime (party houses, stealing, vandalism) and are also a blight on the neighborhood. Porter County does not have a high rate of abandoned homes, but what they have can be utilized for restoration of person and neighborhood alike.
When a person begins to detox their system of opiates, the effects are many. Problems range from extreme sweating, nausea and cravings to insomnia, crying jags, cramping, fevers, diarrhea and vomiting. Death can occur if there are other medical conditions present (2012) These early stages need observation and support if the addict is to get through it. These symptoms are heavily unpleasant, and for the addict who has actively sought to avoid pain and unpleasantness at all costs they will need that steady hand to guide them. Hospitals would be ideal if they had the type of housing this would require. The sheer number of addicts in Porter County would overrun the two hospitals we have in the county. Alternative housing would provide a safe place for detoxing with trained workers to ensure safety.
Outpatient rehabilitation would serve the longer term. Should an addict feel himself struggling, knowing that there would be an understanding ear close by could be the difference between staying clean and relapsing. These houses could be nondescript so the addict would be less likely to be ashamed of seeking help post detox.
What of the cost?
Opponents of increased county-run rehabilitation would object to the increased spending. Tax dollars to treat addicts goes against many people's value sets – feeling someone doing something illegal should bear the full punitive consequences of the act. Lindsey Luxon finds in a study (2006) that rehabilitation is very cost effective when compared to jail. "The study compared 130 drug offenders serving time in prison in 1995-1996 with 150 participants enrolled in Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison Program during that same time...Results showed the drug treatment program saved the criminal justice system more than 47,000 per person during a 6 year period, a savings of more than 7 million to the New York City criminal justice system" Significant savings, indeed. This does not include the unquantifiable difference a former addict working in society versus a prisoner.
When comparing the cost of punishment versus rehabilitation – the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012) reports the cost of methadone (a common medical treatment for heroin addiction) averages 4,700 per patient for the year compared to the cost of a year of imprisonment – approximately 24,000 per person. Further examination concludes "Every dollar invested yields a $4-7 return in drug related crimes. When savings in healthcare are included – total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12:1" Those are extremely important numbers which underscore the more positive route for an addict is also the most cost effective one.
Another point of contention will certainly be homeowners concerned their home values will diminish if rehabilitation homes are to pop up around them. As a homeowner myself, I certainly would not like to see my home value reduced for something beyond my control. When we look at the statistics, however, that is not likely. Jeffrey Fraser (2011) reported that the decrease in home value is about 6.5 percent citywide when homes remain abandoned. Teresa Aruc Schultz (2011) lists about 6.3 percent of the homes in Porter County are standing empty. While that is not as many as other neighboring counties, it is certainly enough to do damage to a home's property value. When taking into account the increased cost of abandoned homes when police have to be called, or perhaps a fire breaks out unattended, there could only be an upside to the city using these homes. Utilities will be paid, grass mowed, homes kept up rather than falling to disrepair. Homes being used particularly for outpatient treatment would not even be noticible as anything other than just another home on the block. Surely this would not damage home values.
I ask the leaders of Porter County to take the reins before the heroin problem grows beyond control. Even if the detoxing is to take place mainly in facilities like Porter Starke, halfway houses in the form of these abandoned homes could be a bridge. Medline Plus (2013) reminds us that "Most opiate deaths occur in persons who have just withdrawn or detoxed". A supervised home environment could stave these off. Furthermore, Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris states (2014) "I believe the number of deaths will only reduce when we see a comprehensive county wide response to addiction that incorporates community-based education, detoxification, after care, counseling, family support and rehabilitation". This problem is going to take a village to stop. I believe we can join together and make Porter County the oasis it once was.
Schitz-Bechtler, Stephanie (1995) A Multiple Indicator Analysis of Heroin Use in Northwest Indiana
Wieland, Phil (March 23, 2014) Porter County Heroin Deaths Up but Suicides Down . The Times of Northwest Indiana
Kasarda, Bob (October 14, 2015) Bus Driver Finds 60 Syringes Along Roadway Near Valparaiso. The Times of Northwest Indiana
Schitz-Bechtler, Stephanie (1995) A Multiple Indicator Analysis of Heroin Use in Northwest Indiana
Pearman-Arlt, Carmen (March 26, 2004) Heroin in Porter County. Chesterton Tribune
No author; Heroin Abuse Addiction Side Effects, Symptoms, Signs, and Causes. Options Behavioral Health Sytems
Luxon, Lindsey (February 3, 2006) Study Finds Drug Treatment is Cost Effective Alternative to Prison. RTI International
No author, (December 2012) Is Drug Addiction Treatment Worth it's Cost? National Institute on Drug Abuse; The Scient of Drug Abuse and Addiction
Fraser, Jeffrey (2011) The Cost of Blight:Vacant and Abandonded Properties. Pittsburgh Quarterly
Aruch Schultz, Teresa (August 8, 2011) Census Sows Homes Sitting Empty in Places in NWI. Post Tribune
No Author (April 15, 2013) Medline Plus National Library of Medicine
Wieland, Phil (March 23, 2014) Porter County Heroin Deaths Up but Suicides Down. The Times of Northwest Indiana
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1include the unquantifiable difference a former addict working in society versus a prisoner.
Another point of contention will certainly be homeowners concerned their home values will diminish if rehabilitation homes are to pop up around them. As a homeowner myself, I certainly would not like to see my home value reduced for something beyond my control. When we look at the statistics, however, that is not likely. Jeffrey Fraser (2011) reported that the decrease in home value is about 6.5 percent citywide when homes remain abandoned. Teresa Aruc Schultz (2011) lists about 6.3 percent of the homes in Porter County are standing empty. While that is not as many as other neighboring counties, it is certainly enough to do damage to a home's property value. When taking into account the increased cost of abandoned homes when police have to be called, or perhaps a fire breaks out unattended, there could only be an upside to the city using these homes. Utilities will be paid, grass mowed, homes