Local heroin presence growing

By JIM FUHRMEISTER / Guest Columnist

This is not easy to write, and I do not think it will be easy for you to read. I was going to write about the first merit raises for my eligible employees in three years because of their hard work resulting in savings to the county; it was going to be a column about how proud I am of my employees.

Instead, I feel compelled to write about a subject that has been bothering me deeply lately. There is a heroin problem facing Shelby County, and it is causing devastation across our county.

I have seen mental health court participants with co-occurring disorders using heroin. I have talked with law enforcement, the coroner and others about the rising number of heroin deaths all over Shelby County. Drug abuse has been a problem for our youth for a long time, but more and more of them are becoming heroin addicts and the drug is a killer.

In August 2010, only two years ago, Capt. Chris George, head of the Shelby County Drug Task Force at that time, noted in a Shelby County Reporter article that law enforcement had gone years without any heroin contact but incidents with the drug had started reappearing. Coroner Diana New said that there had been three heroin-related deaths within a few months of each other.

That was in 2010. For 2011 and 2012, the coroner reported there have been nine confirmed heroin deaths and seven more that are unconfirmed, but that she believes to be heroin-related because of witness reports.

There may be more because she is waiting for lab reports on an additional 25 deaths. If you ignore the unconfirmed deaths, we are still looking at about one heroin-related death a month in Shelby County, and that does not take into account the many people who overdosed but survived because of advances in medical treatments.

For comparison, in 2011 there were 15 traffic deaths in Shelby County.

My friends, we all know Shelby County is a great place to live but we must accept the fact that heroin is here, from North Shelby to South Shelby, east to west; no one is immune. It is going to take our entire community to stem this awful tide.

Be aware of what’s going on with your children and those with whom they associate. If you bury your head in the sand, the next funeral you attend may be for a person close to you.

Jim Fuhrmeister is the Shelby County probate judge.