By Tricia Harte

Fatal drug overdoses outnumbered homicides and traffic deaths in Saint Joseph County last year, and law enforcement is linking that to a spike in opiate use, like heroin.

St. Joseph County Statistics:
County data reveals 59 overdose deaths in 2015. Of which, 47 were opiate overdoses and 27 were specifically heroin-related.The numbers beat traffic accidents, which killed 33 people last year, and homicides, which claimed the lives of 24 people.

Investigators say this is the first time they’re seeing a persistent increase in the opiate’s use in Saint Joe County, and it’s not isolated to one demographic.

The danger comes when heroine dealers lace the drug with other toxic ingredients, making any “fix” potentially a user’s last.

“Heroin is like playing Russian Roulette,” explained St. Joseph County Coroner Randy Magdalinski. “It can be the first time you use it, or the 100th time you use it. You don’t know which time is going to kill you, but it will.”

Magdalinski says heroin’s danger comes from, not just its addictive quality, but what dealers cut into the drug.

“If they’re cutting with Fentanyl and the addict is taking their ‘normal’ dose of heroin, they don’t realize the Fentanyl is mixed with it and that’s a deadly combination,” according to Magdalinski, Fentanyl is 50-times as potent as heroin.

Oftentimes the addiction starts with abuse of prescription drugs. When the prescription and the pills run out, law enforcement says heroin has become a cheap and deadly substitute.

“Heroin, so far, kind of slipped through the cracks in our community and never had a concerted effort to go after the dealers who are selling this stuff, because a heroin dealer is a killer,” Magdalinski said the record number of heroin deaths can only truly be reduced by active law enforcement and elimination of the source.

On January 11, 2016, Commander Dave Wells started as the head of St. Joseph County’s Drug Investigations Unit (DIU).

“The primary function of this unit is going to be dealing with the heroin epidemic,” while opiates are taking center stage, Wells wants everyone to know they’re not going to ignore other major drug contributors like cocaine and marijuana, “it can’t be tolerated so that’s the message we’re trying to get out.”

Read more at WNDU

Overdoses rank as top cause of death in St. Joseph County