Heroin use is on the rise among college-aged people in the Indianapolis area.
According to Butler University Police Department Detective Bruce Allee, heroin is present on Butler’s campus but less than state school campuses.
“The scary thing about heroin is that an experienced addict can appear to be functioning,” Allee said. “They will graduate college and begin careers while suffering from an addiction to heroin.”
Allee, a former detective with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and IMPD Sergeant James Ficus said Indianapolis is a supply hub for heroin. Large quantities of heroin come in from I-70, and people from Bloomington, Fort Wayne, South Bend, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cincinnati come to Indianapolis to buy heroin.
According to a report by the Indiana State Police, heroin is the second-most-purchased drug by Indiana’s State undercover cops. The same report showed heroin use has increased by 21 percent from 2010 to 2011 in Marion County.
“One common thing is students from Indiana University coming to Indianapolis to buy heroin,” Allee said.
Ficus said the increase in heroin use is partly due to a supply strategy by dealers.
“When heroin was used heavily in the 80s and 90s, it was typically used by Vietnam vets,” Ficus said. “Now, heroin is being produced so that it can be snorted instead of injected. It’s more appealing to people who don’t like needles.”
Ficus said many heroin addicts start out addicted to painkillers.
“Many times, people graduate from painkillers to heroin,” Ficus said. “I’ve seen many people who start out taking Vicodin for a work-related injury, and they become addicted. After some time, painkillers won’t be enough to get them high, and they’ll turn to heroin, which in and of itself is cheaper.”
Both Ficus and Allee also said many people who become heroin addicts begin as a “social abuser.”
“You can’t experiment with heroin,” Allee said. “If you try heroin once, you are hooked for life.”
Ficus said he has witnessed more than a few cases where people began doing things to feed their heroin habit that they would have never done otherwise.
“I once talked to a man who began stealing large amounts of money from his work to feed his habit,” Ficus said.
During his IMPD days, Allee busted a drug house on the East side of Indianapolis where many Indiana University students were buying heroin.
“On this drug bust, we found quite a few college students,” Allee said. “This one girl was an Indiana University student and seemed to be a typical all-American girl, former high school cheerleader. She came up to this dope house in Indianapolis but ran out of money to buy more drugs, so she had sex with every guy in the house to pay off her debt.”
Ficus said he sees many high school and college students who are addicted to heroin stealing from their friends, parents and younger siblings. They’ll also shoplift and trade stolen items for drugs.
Mike Denton is a licensed clinical addiction counselor specializing in chemical dependency services at IU Health at Methodist Hospital. He is also a part-time therapist at the Health and Recreation Complex counseling center.
He said he has seen an increase of heroin users in his facilities.
“In the past five years, there’s been more of a crackdown on prescription painkillers like morphine and pain pills,” Denton said. “Because of this, there is a market for heroin, which is readily available and cheaper.”
Denton said heroin addicts will very quickly get to a point where they cannot go through a day without using.
“Heroin addicts will develop a tolerance, and quickly they are no longer getting high for the actual high but to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal,” Denton said.
Denton said withdrawal will mimic a bad case of the flu, with sweating, aches, fever, some vomiting and a runny nose, but it is in no way life threatening.
Denton attributes part of the resurgence of heroin use to “generational forgetting.”
“After a drug hasn’t been used for a few decades, generations of people will actually forget how damaging it can be,” Denton said.
Denton also said young people are particularly susceptible to becoming addicts because of the “air of invincibility” they have.
“Young people especially feel like they can handle almost anything,” Denton said.
Denton said he has seen patients in his heroin treatment program at Methodist Hospital from all universities in Indiana, including Butler.
Denton said he urges any students who believe they or a friend may have a problem to contact him at the HRC or to schedule an appointment.
Ficus said young people shouldn’t even consider experimenting with heroin or other hard drugs because of the damage drugs cause to users’ bodies and their friends and families.
“Once someone becomes an addict, it’s almost impossible to recognize them physically, emotionally, mentally or morally,” Ficus said. “They will do unbelievable things to feed their addiction that their sober selves would have never considered.”
If any students feel suspicious of activity on campus and think heroin or other drug use is a possibility, contact BUPD at 940-9396 or the HRC Counseling and Consultation Services at 940-9385.