Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

March 28, 2014

Editorial: Overdose deaths will rise as long as there's a market

Call it the democratization of depression and despair.

No longer are heroin overdoses exclusive to the inner city. Today, the horrors of heroin use and abuse have spread to places one wouldn’t have guessed 10 years ago. Today, communities like mostly rural Benzie County are dealing with a wave of heroin use and, inevitably, the crime and family heartbreak that follow.

The Benzie County Sheriff’s Department is investigating two possible overdose deaths in a week.

Deputies found heroin on the scene of a suspected overdose death involving a 22-year-old man Wednesday in Colfax Township. It followed the suspected overdose death of a 42-year-old man in Homestead Township March 19.

“This is like six overdoses in the last two years,” Sheriff Ted Schendel said. “For our population (17,525 in 2010) the ratio of deaths is way too high.”

Schendel is taking extra steps to prevent future overdose deaths. The sheriff’s department became the first law enforcement agency in the state to have its officers carry Narcan, a drug that counteracts heroin and overdoses from other opiates.

Schendel knows his limited resources can’t dent the booming heroin trade. He said he’d need his own narcotics team.

“We barely have enough deputies to patrol the roads, and the Traverse Narcotics Team, they cover several counties and their resources are taxed as well,” Schendel said.

Most overdoses are from opiates such as prescription drugs and heroin; but there also is a rise in methamphetamine use, the sheriff said.

“These things didn’t occur in any of these northern counties and all of a sudden we are inundated with all of them,” Schendel said. “Unfortunately, there’s a market for it.”

Benzie and northwest Lower Michigan aren’t alone.

Heroin overdoses are on the rise nationwide, and climbed by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010, officials with the U.S. Department of Justice reported. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this month called deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers an “urgent and growing public health crisis.”

Until mindsets change and it’s no longer acceptable for individuals to use or for others to know who is selling and using and remain silent the cycle will continue — and so will the crime and grief that are the plague of heroin.

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