Vanderburgh Co. Prosecutor Nicholas Hermann on opioid abuse

There are so many stories of opioid overdose leading to death this past year. That has prompted Eyewitness News to begin a new initiative called “A Community in Pain” where we look for some answers and solutions to this huge problem. We are partnering with several agencies to find those solutions. Eyewitness News' Brad Byrd was live at the Vanderburgh County Central Dispatch 9-1-1 Call Center on Wednesday to speak with Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nicholas Hermann.

Brad Byrd: Hi, Shelley, we are here of course at central dispatch where the first calls often come in when opioid overdoses happen and someone is in need of help. Joining me is Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann. And Nick, we have talked many times about how this epidemic has gripped the community, but it's almost as though it was hiding in plain sight for law enforcement and for the media. You're having to make some critical decisions. And you're facing some critical obstacles on how you proceed as a prosecutor.

Nicholas Hermann: This is a problem that will often start in a medicine cabinet. It'll start with a valid prescription, somebody gets addicted, and then they can't get pills anymore. They might try to buy them or steal them. Sometimes it leads to heroin addiction. And by that point, it's very difficult to deal with. Obviously from a medical side, you have an addiction. But you have the criminal side as well. You have people that are using, buying, and selling illegal drugs. It creates this interesting hybrid. You have these people that are addicted that you want to help. But then you have people bringing these poisons into our community and distributing them to our citizens.

BB: So there is a thin line there where you have to make a decision: when to prosecute, when to not prosecute, does this person need help? And where do you send that person? Because often, the Vanderburgh County Jail is the next destination.

NH: Well, a lot of addiction can be treated before it ever gets to the criminal justice system. Once an arrest is made, we look at a person's past record, what they were found with – so we look at that and we're fortunate enough to have a lot of different programs we're able to use to try to help people. We're blessed to have a lot of good addiction services and treatment centers in our community as well.

BB: At least in Vanderburgh County, at this point in time, the numbers are higher now than they were all of last year. What does this tell you about the situation? Are we, as a community, going to have to get help from the outside?

NH: This is an emergency. It's a community emergency. Everyone needs to step forward and do what they can do. Doctors keeping an eye on prescribing habits, family members keeping an eye on family members. This problem crosses all economic lines, all demographic lines. And it's something that I'm happy to work with your station to address and start a public conversation about it and give people the tools they need to address it.

BB: Do you think they are comfortable talking about it?

NH: I think they're getting there. I think this is something a couple years ago no one talked about. This is something we want to bring out of the shadows. We want to bring this problem to the public. If this were any other problem. If this was a gang of people coming into town and killing 50, 60, 70 people a year – we'd be up in arms. We'd have people out on the streets. This is something different. This is something that happens in the privacy of people's homes but it's something just as deadly and we have to do something to address it.

BB: And it has no socioeconomic guidelines?

NH: Absolutely none.

BB: It can harm anyone regardless of sex, race, or age?

NH: Absolutely.

BB: Vanderburgh Co. Prosecutor Nick Hermann, thank you very much. We'll be talking to you in the next year as we have in the past about this growing problem. We'll also see you tonight on Eyewitness News at 9 on In Depth. Thank you. We're here at central dispatch where calls continue to come in about drug-related incidents. This is a continuing effort that will continue during the next year. The partnership between Eyewitness News, the Mayor's Drug Abuse Task Force, and the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office. Shelley, back to you. 

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(This story was originally published November 8, 2017)


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