A Community in Pain: The opioid problem is growing

EVANSVILLE (WEHT) - “It just seems like they’re getting more and more,” said Evansville Vanderburgh County Dispatcher Carrie James of the number of overdose 911 calls being placed.
 
James is the person, often times, at the other end of one of those calls for help.
 
“Sometimes it’s the mother who’s hysterical or sometimes it’s a small child who’s found Mom or Dad,” said James. “You have to listen to that and try to keep your emotions in check.”
 
Eyewitness News obtained exclusive body cam video of Evansville police officers responding to some of those calls. One was for a “woman down” at Kids Kingdom, a a children’s playground on the Evansville riverfront.
 
“Now, when we get people down, the first thought through our mind is usually, well, it could be heroin,” said Evansville Police Officer Arnie Juncker.
 
Officers Juncker and Dillon Powers were the first to arrive on the scene of that run.
 
“When we got there she was laying on her back, her face was blue, she wasn’t breathing,” said Officer Powers.

The officers say they knew this was a drug overdose and immediately administered three doses of Narcan, a medicine used to block the effect of opioids.
 
“To see somebody not breathing and face blue because of this, the number of doses you administered is pretty horrifying,” said Officer Powers.
 
But even more horrifying to these officers is the number of times this is happening now and who it’s happening to.
 
“We’ve found them in bedrooms, we found them in playgrounds,” said Officer Juncker. “A friend of mine who I grew up with and played sports with, we were sent to an overdose run on him and he was a great athlete, great kid. It doesn’t discriminate.”
 
“We have a narcotics epidemic. We have a heroin epidemic,” said Lt. Monty Guenin.
 
Guenin with the Evansville Police Department said unfortunately runs like this are becoming the norm more than the exception. 
 
“It just becomes routine, like driving to work,” said Guenin. “I go the same way to work everyday. Oh, I got an overdose run. I’m going to another overdoes run. The shock value is wearing off and when the shock value wears off, that’s a problem.”
 
The problem, Guenin said, is that opioids are so strong, so addictive, that once a person starts abusing them the harder it is to stop.

For some, that addiction starts with a simple pain-killer prescription from their doctor, oftentimes after minor or major surgery. And once those pills run out, that person many times will then run out to find a new way to get that high.
 
“My guess is we had most of these people already on opioids, but they were in the pain-killer form and now that they’re having a very difficult time getting that they’ve turned to heroin,” said Guenin.
 
And Guenin said as long as there’s a demand for heroin on the streets, there’s going to be a supply for it. It’s finding that supply that’s challenging for police.
 
“We start with your WeTip, you start with information from a person who is arrested, and you try to work that up to where you can get to some people who are bringing in some bigger and larger sources,” said Guenin.
 
And once those sources are found, Guenin said, the suppliers have to be severely punished. But until those sources are found and those suppliers are punished, Guenin said, this will continue to be a community-wide problem and those calls for help will continue to come in to the Evansville Vanderburgh County Dispatch Center.
 
“The more we can make the community aware maybe the more we can catch the people who are selling this stuff and you know, get rid of the problem,” said James.

For the latest breaking news and stories from across the Tri-State, follow Eyewitness News on Facebook and Twitter.

(This story was originally published November 8, 2017)


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