Kokomo officials concerned about rise in fatal overdoses

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KOKOMO, Ind (May 11, 2015)-- Authorities in Kokomo and Howard County say fatal drug overdoses this year are on pace to be the highest in recent memory. Howard County Coroner Jay Price says the county has had 11 overdoses so far this year.  Six more possible cases are still pending toxicology test results.

Those numbers put the county on pace to surpass the highest number he has seen since 2010, when the county saw 23 fatal overdoses. There were 18 fatal overdoses in 2014.

Members of the Kokomo Police Department’s Drug Task Force say the overdoses seem to coincide with a recent resurgence of heroin use.  They’re arresting drug users and dealers several times a week.

“It’s pretty much every day,” said a police captain who works undercover.  “Whether it’s through special units such as drug task force, or drug interdiction units, K9 units.”

“We see heroin purchased from outside sources such as Indianapolis, or they may come from Detroit or Chicago before it comes to Kokomo,” said another undercover member of the task force.

Before being transported between U.S. cities, task force members say the heroin is coming from Mexico.

“The drug dealers in Mexico have found a way to grow the poppy seeds, which is required,” said the police captain.

The officers believe the increase in heroin use and overdoses could be an unforeseen result of the recent closing of two area clinics run by Doctor Don Wagoner.  Wagoner recently pleaded guilty to felony drug charges after police arrested a total of nine people associated with his clinics.  Prosecutors said Wagoner’s clinics operated as drug distribution centers where drug addicts could pay cash for prescription pain killers.

Court documents said the clinics were connected to about two dozen deaths.

Police believe more people addicted to opiates are now turning to heroin because prescription pain killers are more difficult to get in the Kokomo area.  But it’s a dangerous addiction for new heroin users who may not know exactly what they’re buying for as little as $20.

“They buy from one person and the next time they buy from someone else to the actual product they’re getting is different,” one task force member said.

The increase also comes as officials in southern Indiana are coping with a massive HIV outbreak in Scott County.  Howard County Health Department officials are closely tracking cases of Hepatitis C, which is commonly spread among drug users who share needles.  Most of those invected with HIV in Scott County also tested positive for Hepatitis C.

Tracking Hepatitis C cases can serve as a good indicator of how much needle sharing is happening in a community.

The Howard County Health Department says cases of Hepatitis C are trending upward after dropping in the last decade.  After hitting 100 cases in 2005, the number dropped to 64 in 2012.  But last year, the number was back up to 93.

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