Methamphetamine? Martin County is awash with it. Prescription opioidbased pain pills? Addicted residents find suppliers, either a doctor or a dealer. But deadly heroin? A rare find.
Martin County Sheriff Travis Roush was attending a law enforcement conference, paying close attention during a session focused on an increase in opioid abuse across the state. Methamphetamine manufacturing and use was high but leveling off, while the illegal use of powerful opioids — drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl and heroin — was way up, trailing off the chart.
“A (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency) agent was up there talking, and when I looked at the lines on the graph showing how prolific heroin is, the one for Martin County was way down there,” Roush said, pointing toward the ground. “It’s not because we have a great strategy for keeping it out. We just aren’t seeing it.”
“It’s like we’re somehow insulated here in Martin County,” Roush said.
Not completely. Martin County Prosecutor Michael Steiner has filed several heroin-related charges this year. Back in May, a man and three women were arrested with what police said was a large amount of meth and small amounts of heroin during a police-arranged drug buy from the Lawrence County residents.
Steiner has been the prosecutor in Martin County since 2003. “In my 14-1/2 years, I’ve seen three opioid overdoses here. One was a nurse who took too much Vicodin, and then there were two guys who OD’d on heroin eight, maybe 10 years ago, just 10 days apart. One was 58 and the other was 21, and it must have been a bad batch.”
Roush, in his third year as sheriff, remembers those heroin-caused deaths and how a young man’s overdose spilled over to affect three generations of a family he has known most of his life.
Both he and Chief Deputy Josh Greene are local: Roush graduated from Shoals High School in 1998, served in the U.S. Army and then went to college; Greene is a 2002 Loogootee High School grad. “We were both born and raised here, and sometimes we have to deal with friends and family in bad times,” Roush said.
The sheriff thinks townspeople have not forgotten those heroin deaths from nearly a decade ago and the disbelief that heroin had invaded their rural world.
“In a small county like this, when someone’s daughter or son overdoses, it’s someone you know, not just a name like in a big urban area. The impact is so much more substantial. The drug users, the addicts,” he said, “it scares them. It scares them to death.”