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Hot-Button Issues: The Straight Dope

Indy has a nasty new drug habit: heroin. Is it time for an intervention?

Editor's Note: From gay marriage to Glenda Ritz, Obamacare to Sunday booze, we're presenting 10 topics that Hoosiers will be fired up about this year—and what you need to know before jumping into heated cocktail-party discussions. See the full list here.


The Skinny

In April 2012, Indianapolis police raided an auto-repair shop they believed to be a drug front. The sting, conducted by several law-enforcement agencies in multiple Indiana counties, produced numerous arrests and resulted in the seizure of guns, 10 pounds of heroin valued at $400,000, and nearly half a million dollars in cash—making it perhaps the largest heroin bust in state history.

That was only a taste of things to come. This past October, the local U.S. attorney’s office launched a case against two Indiana prison inmates accused of directing the distribution of large quantities of heroin in Indianapolis through the use of smuggled-in cell phones. In the same month, an IMPD source told IM that the number of criminal cases involving heroin already exceeded 500 for the year—nearly four times as many as in 2008. Last year, the Marion County coroner counted 89 deaths from heroin-related overdoses as of August—up from 50 in all of 2011—while Indianapolis EMS logged 200 emergency-room visits related to the drug in the first half of the year.

HeroinAuthorities point to the proliferation of opioid painkillers like oxycodone, Percocet, and Vicodin as an aggravating factor. As legitimate drugs get more expensive and difficult to obtain, heroin is an attractive alternative for addicts. Whereas a pill can cost as much as $50 on the street, a packet of heroin can go for as little as $20, says Captain Robert Holt of IMPD, adding that when he was a narcotics detective in the early ’90s, heroin seized in Indianapolis was typically less than 10 percent pure. Now it is not unusual for it to approach 100 percent.

Indy’s strategic “crossroads” location in the Midwest helped make the influx possible. Historically, “All roads lead to Chicago,” says DEA Special Agent Dennis Wichern; there, heroin arrives via Mexico from countries of origin like Colombia, and it is then injected into the Indianapolis market via I-65. Now, though, Captain Holt thinks Indianapolis is drawing heroin straight from Mexico and bypassing Chicago altogether—which might account for the high potency.

The Players

Commander Bryan Roach of IMPD’s Southwest District, which has seen some of the city’s highest concentrations of heroin use … Tough-on-crime U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, whose office prosecutes federal drug offenses in Indianapolis, and Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, whose office handles the local ones … As-yet-unnamed Mexican kingpins and their Indy affiliates.

   Bryan Roach         Joe Hogsett         

Players: (l-r) Roach, Hogsett

When It Will Go Down

Now, and perhaps in a neighborhood near you. Toward the end of last year, IMPD, Indianapolis EMS, Eskenazi Health, Drug Free Marion County, and the coroner’s office rolled out a public-awareness campaign, with “Heroin Is a Thief” PSAs currently running on local television

The Upper Hand

Drug dealers. Over the last two years, Indianapolis police have seen an estimated twofold increase in the number of theft suspects addicted to heroin and prescription drugs. “We are finding that we can’t arrest our way out of it,” says Roach. “I can lock you up all day long, but if you have a hundred-dollar-a-day heroin habit, when you get out, you are going to steal again.”

The Upper Hand

Blogger Gary Welsh has his own ideas on the spike in heroin use, which he shared on AdvanceIndiana.com: “Let’s see, where does heroin originate? That would be Afghanistan. Who’s calling the shots in Afghanistan? That would be the CIA … Until the FBI starts investigating and prosecuting high-level people within the CIA and their contracted agents, including those operating right here in Indiana, for their role in drug-trafficking, the federal government’s so-called war on drugs will remain nothing more than an overt effort by the federal government to eliminate drug operations that compete with the CIA’s drug rings.” Well, that’s one theory.

Follow Along

@IMPD_News / @SDINnews / @JDisis


A version of this article appeared in the January 2014 issue. Reporting by Emily Taylor.