Police agencies across region spread word of dangerous drugs

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 late Tuesday in southern Indiana was in Jennings County, where as many as 13 people overdosed and one of them died.

Additionally, Jackson County reported four overdoses, and Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said his office responded to one heroin-related call Tuesday.

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 Tuesday, with about 10 of them between 7 and 9 p.m.

However, Saunders said the total number of individual overdoses is likely higher than 21 because many of the calls that came in were regarding more than one person at a single location. Approximately 14 of the calls came from the west end of the city, he said.

The Cincinnati Fire Department said that at least 34 individual overdoses were reported between 7 a.m. and midnight Tuesday.

That compares to the Cincinnati daily average of about four heroin-related calls per day, but Saunders said that number has been slowly rising over the past week, culminating in Tuesday’s 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 Tuesday, Myers and Saunders 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 simultaneously taking to social and other forms of media to warn residents of the dangers of the most recent batch of heroin that is being distributed.

The Seymour Police Department first sent out an alert to residents through its Facebook page at about 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 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 about the same time, taking to both social media and local news outlets to alert residents to the presence of an unusually dangerous substance plaguing the city.

“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 in its media advisory.

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 through the south central region of 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.

While Myers said the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department did not put out an alert overnight Tuesday about the overdose spike, he said his message now remains the same as it was when Bartholomew County saw a spike in overdoses earlier in the year — residents should steer clear of heroin use at all costs.

Heroin-related deaths in Bartholomew County in 2016 have already doubled from 2015, with 12 deaths so far this year, compared to six in all of 2015, deputy coroner Clayton Nolting said.

Jackson County has had five heroin deaths so far this year. Besides the one Jennings County fatal overdose reported early Wednesday, additional information on other drug fatalities in the county were not immediately available.

It only takes one bad batch of heroin to create a surge in overdoses and deaths, Myers said, as has been evidenced by Tuesday’s rash of incidents.

To prevent that sort of surge, the sheriff said residents should avoid heroin entirely.

But for residents who are already addicted to the substance, Myers said he would like to see a community-wide push for more treatment centers to help drug abusers kick their addictions entirely.

As the heroin epidemic continues to plague the region, Myers said he will continue to make fighting drug abuse one of his top priorities.

Reporters from the Seymour Tribune, a sister publication of The Republic, contributed to this report.

Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.