A growing opioid epidemic surrounds the Tri-State area. On Wednesday, Eyewitness News brought the first special initiative “A Community in Pain.” 

Eyewitness News is partnering with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force to provide answers to questions many have on opioid abuse.

Brad Byrd talks with Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann and Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding about the ongoing opioid crisis in the area and what steps need to be taken to help people.

Transcript of interview:

Brad Byrd: “I now joined by Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann and Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding. And Nick, we’ll start with you first. The recurring theme here that you have been talking about is raising awareness. Now, we’ve talked about this when we finally getting around to talking about it as far as the overall public is concerned. After the talk, what is your gut feeling to what is the solution?” 

Nick Hermann: “Well, I think this is a big problem, and it affects a lot of areas. So, there are a lot of steps that need to be taken. I think we certainly need to work with doctors on their prescription habits.  A lot of people are going into emergency rooms and getting pills that they may or may not need. We need to work with people to get unused medication out of their homes, so their kids can’t get to it, so they can’t get addicted to it. We need to help people that are addicted. We need to make sure those services are there to be able to provide and help them. And then once it gets to my office, there’s already been a criminal action, and we have to work with those individuals to help them to beat that addiction so they can continue on the right path.” 

Brad Byrd: “And Sheriff Dave Wedding, you basically received the end result of the criminal process here as far as the opioid overdoses and the dealing, etc. A recent D.O.C. inspection found something that you weren’t shocked about. The jail is overcrowded. With that being said, what do you want to see happen? How can this be fixed from a penalty standpoint?” 

Sheriff Dave Wedding: “Well, I think first of all we need to get very aggressive on two things. Number one, I think we need to get into the schools at a very early age and educate the young children, follow up with the middle school children, and then once again teach the high school kids the dangers associated with drugs and the addiction. Another thing I think we need to do is have better treatment centers for people who are strongly addicted to drugs. I think often times when they come in and out of the system, they don’t get the help they need sustainable, so then they come in and out like a revolving door. Now, sometimes these people may need to be incarcerated for a longer period of time. And the incarceration wouldn’t be a punishment tool, it would be a tool for rehabilitation purposes. But some people may be forced into strong rehabilitation services.” 

Brad Byrd: “And you wrote this down and the numbers the fact that we all know it’s almost as if all us know someone who’s had some type of drug abuse, addiction, or so have you. This has no socio-economic boundaries at all, Nick. I mean this is affecting kids, adults, even elderly people in some cases. So, how do you get people start talking about this and putting pressure on lawmakers up in Indianapolis?” 

Nick Hermann: “I think the sheriff hit on an important point. The first thing we need to do is we need to stop people from getting addicted in the first place. And one thing we can all do is talk to your children. Now, I don’t think there is an age too young. High school, middle school, even some of the upper elementary grades … go ahead and talk to your kids about this. You don’t want a drug dealer or a drug addict to be the first person that talks to your child about drugs, so we need to start there. From a legislative side, we need to differentiate between people that are addicted to drugs and have a medical condition from those that are dealing the drugs and bringing the drugs into our community.” 

Brad Byrd: “And Sheriff Wedding, when you look at your jail population right now, when you see some people who are incarcerated, are you telling yourself this person has no business being here?” 

Sheriff Dave Wedding: “Sometimes. We have a certain number of people that are true addicts. We have other people that have chosen the life of crime. Now, I was speaking with judges in our community, Wayne Trockman and David Kiely, the other day. We was talking about what is the length of time we’ve allowed somebody to try to complete a drug rehabilitation program. They have a drug court which is a 36 month period time where a person can roll in and try to beat their addiction. And they have a successful rate, but they also have people who fail. And our big question is what do we do with that person after three years, and they still fail to comply with the service that’s given to them. I know we’ve found recently in some studies we have 175 people that die each day in the United States from drug overdoses. And that’s a pretty startling statistic. And we was often told at times people come in emergency rooms multiple times up to six times overdosing on heroin and other drugs. And these emergency room doctors, they’re hands are tied because they can’t reach out to these families and say ‘This person has a problem’ because of the HIPPA law. And they might come a seventh time, and they’re deceased. And I think that’s crazy that we don’t have a HIPPA law that allows a physician or somebody in the medical field when they see someone has a chronic substance abuse they can’t reach out to somebody for help, and these people end up dying.” 

Brad Byrd: “Well, this initiative where we are partnering with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force and of course working with the sheriff’s office and EPD and as a community. We thank you both for being here tonight. I’m sure we’re going to be having future conversations in the next several months. Thank you so much, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann and Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding.”

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(This story was originally published November 8, 2017)