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7/10/2017 9:18:00 AM
Morgan County working to stop drug traffic along Ind. 37, Ind. 67 and I-70

Lance Gideon, Reporter-Times

MARTINSVILLE — From 2011 to 2015, Morgan County had the second-highest rate in the state of nonfatal emergency department visits due to opioid overdoses.

During this period, there were 79.32 nonfatal emergency department visits per 100,000 people, according to recent data released by the Indiana State Department of Health.

This is more than 120 percent higher than the state average, which is reported at a rate of 35.87 nonfatal visits per 100,000 people.

When it comes to fatalities due to opioid drug use, Morgan County reports the 30th-highest rate of the state’s 92 counties, with 4.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 people.

More people died per capita in Morgan County from opioid drug use than in all neighboring counties in the area.

Morgan County Substance Abuse Council Executive Director Kristinia Love said there are issues regarding how data about overdose fatalities is reported from the counties.

“All of the coroners report things differently and code them differently,” Love said.

“There is no set procedure, so that sometimes

contributes to some differences in the rates.”

The council manages the local drug-free community fund and gives money to local organizations that help in the fight against substance abuse. For example, Martinsville Baptist Tabernacle’s Reformers Unanimous chapter has received funds for two years. Court fees from alcohol and drug offenses in the county support the fund.

The council recently approved $25,000 for a program with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office and Mooresville Police Department known as the Proactive Criminal Enforcement, or PACE, team to help fight the drug problem by increasing patrols and providing overtime pay to do so. “That is to form an interdiction team to combat drug trafficking and drugs that are coming through Morgan County,” Love said.

Morgan County sheriff’s Deputy Cody St. John said officers will be participating in the new program during their non-regularly scheduled shift. The new program started on July 1 and runs through June 30, 2018.

Patrols will increase along some of the most traveled roadways in Morgan County, including Ind. 37, Ind. 67 and Interstate 70.

“It will be increased patrol, increased traffic stops for traffic violations, things of that nature,” St. John said of the program.

The goal is not to increase the number of traffic tickets issued in the county, but to focus on seizing drugs. Officers hope that by conducting more traffic stops for violations, they can intercept what they believe are large amounts of drugs moving through the county.

“We are trying to focus on larger amounts of narcotics. The supply routes is the way we look at it, to stop the stuff from coming into the county,” St. John said.

St. John said a lot of the drugs come into Morgan County from the Indianapolis area, and sometimes officers hear that narcotics are coming from Bloomington.

While I-70 only runs through a small portion of the county, the officers will be working to keep drugs from traveling into Marion County for further distribution into Morgan County.

The Martinsville Police Department has been working on a similar program, called Operation Sheepdog, to combat drugs in the area.Martinsville Police Chief Matt Long said the department netted nearly 100 arrests since the program started last year.

Long said the operation consists of an after-hours enforcement team with about six to eight officers, including a canine officer, that patrols and addresses target areas.

“Whether it be citizens’ complaints on houses that have a lot of traffic, whether it be intelligence we get from our detectives that says, ‘you know, these are the drug areas,’” Long said.

Martinsville police officers who sign up for Operation Sheepdog can focus just on the night’s tasks and not the daily tasks of an officer. The only time an officer would be pulled from Sheepdog would be in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

Complaints from city residents are compiled and then given to Operation Sheepdog members to investigate, Long said.

Each month, Long selects a new officer to be in charge of the operation, and that officer picks the team they want to participate for the month.

Operation Sheepdog takes place twice a month on unspecified days and times.

“We are trying to focus on larger amounts of narcotics. The supply routes is the way we look at it, to stop the stuff from coming into the county.”

Related Stories:
• Drugs are killing us, says Indiana Recovery Alliance director
• Effects of addiction ripple throughout Lawrence County and surrounding area
• Amid local calls to pull back on needle exchanges, state says they offer path to recovery
• Time's ticking on Tippecanoe County's stalled needle exchange
• Daviess County resolutions against needle exchange receive qualified support
• Meth, not heroin, still rules in some rural areas of Indiana

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