Special Report: The grip of addiction in Vanderburgh Co.
VANDERBURGH CO., Ind. (WFIE) - When it comes to addiction, Madison Brown knows the battle all too well.
“You know, I just don’t think that lifestyle, there’s no place for that in my life now," says Brown. “I’ve just done a complete 180 and I feel like I’ve gotten back to the person I was before all of this ever happened.”
Today, she is proud to say she is clean. But the light of her life now is one she didn’t always see.
“I didn’t see myself making it to the other side," Brown explains. “There is a lot of people I’ve lost due to the disease of addiction, but I think it is possible to make it to the other side. Even for the ones that struggle in those ways.”
Brown isn’t the only one with a story like that. Drugs have been a problem in Vanderburgh County for decades and continue to be a problem.
“It’s every day,” says Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding. "A lot of people coming to the Vanderburgh County Jail are either drug addicts or drug salespeople and we think they both need to be corrected.”
Local law enforcement is throwing more resources at the drug problem than ever before. Evansville Police officers and sheriff’s deputies with the joint Drug Task Force work around the clock to get these drugs and the dealers off of the streets.
“Most of our narcotics are brought in from out of state or out of country," explains Lt. Monty Guenin. "So like synthetic powder, we are going to get from China. Our methamphetamine is coming from Mexico mostly, crystal meth, marijuana is coming from the states that have legalized marijuana.”
Even after working hard for long periods to make an arrest, drug task force officers often see the same repeat offenders.
“We see a lot of sadness on a daily basis because people are in sad situations and never meant to be there," says Sgt. David Eads. "But that is what can happen, that’s why you just can’t go there.”
Brown says by the time she realized she, herself, had become an addict, it was too late.
“It was long before the legal trouble that I definitely knew it was an addiction," says Brown. "I had never experienced anything like that before and I woke up really sick one day. It just basically controls your whole life and dictates your every move.”
The control that addiction rips away from people has a strong and troubling impact on society. Life becomes all about the drug and how you can get it, often wreaking havoc in the community.
“If they’re parents, they’re not parenting their children properly," explains Sheriff Wedding. "They’re probably harming themselves, making more emergency room visits, driving vehicles impaired on the road, making poor decisions, they’re stealing from people, robbing from people. Some are killing people.”
With death, there is no chance for recovery. Methamphetamine continues to be a huge problem in Vanderburgh County, contributing to 32 deaths so far this year.
“That doesn’t include those deaths that somebody on meth had a wreck and killed somebody else," says Vanderburgh County Coroner Steve Lockyear. "So those are in addition to these deaths.”
Compare that with 14 Heroin and Fentanyl deaths in 2019, you can see why meth is such a concern.
“You have to look at this going ‘would they have been murdered?’ Would they have taken their own life if they had been sober? And probably not,” explains Lockyear.
So how do you keep an addict from becoming another sad statistic? You have to remember that those statistics were real people.
A lifestyle change could have saved their life.
“They have to have a whole new environment," says Stepping Stones social worker Marla Stamm. "And if people do not have the opportunity to meet people in the recovery community, make new friends, find new activities, then naturally they’re going to go back to doing what they have just been doing for the last three, five, 10, or 20 years.”
Sheriff Wedding would like to see Indiana implement steeper punishments for drug dealers and more resources for addicts. However, that all comes with a cost.
“Because we are going to have to build facilities, we are going to have to hire people, and work with these addicts to try to get them away from this life cycle of drugs,” Sheriff Wedding says.
But he thinks the cost will be worth it. With the hopes of a better, safer community, and more success stories like Madison Brown.
“You know I’ve just got a whole new lifestyle and new people to reach out to and I don’t have to live like that anymore," said Brown.
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