Heroin's face: Indiana woman, unconscious from overdose, with baby nearby

INDIANAPOLIS — Police in Hope, Ind., found the woman unconscious from an overdose Saturday. She was sprawled behind the steering wheel of her car, head tilted back, sunglasses over blonde curls pulled into a ponytail.

Needle still in hand. Her 10-month old son crying in the back seat.

This child, the local town marshal said, is the face of the most helpless victims of Indiana's drug crisis.

"Parents are doing this more often with children in the car because they are doing it away from someone who is going to disapprove," said Matthew Tallent, the marshal. "This is becoming a new norm for drug users."

Officer Skylar Hollin's body camera was rolling as he approached the vehicle and opened the driver's door.

The time was 2:06 p.m. Police say the camera captured Erika P. Hurt, 25, unconscious in the driver's seat of a car parked at the Dollar General in Hope, located about 45 miles southeast of Indianapolis with a population of 2,100.

The incident is reminiscent of what police came across last month in East Liverpool, Ohio: A grandmother and her friend overdosed on heroin in a car with her 4-year-old grandson in the back seat. Photos posted to Facebook became widely circulated.

Both incidents serve as reminders of how pervasive and disturbing the problem of heroin abuse is in Indiana and across the region. It's been described as an epidemic by politicians and public health officials here.

State data show 452 Hoosiers died of drug overdoses involving opioids in 2014. That number jumped to 595 Hoosiers in 2015, according to preliminary state data.

Many users get hooked on opiate pain killers — such as hydrocodone and codeine — then switch to heroin, which is often cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription drugs.

It's not clear what led to Saturday's overdose. Hurt was held Tuesday in the Bartholomew County Jail and declined IndyStar's request for an interview.

Her mother came to the Dollar General parking lot 11 minutes after police to pick up her grandson. Hurt had just gotten out of rehab on Oct. 4, the mother told officers.

In 2014, online records show a Marion County judge sentenced Hurt to six months probation for drug possession. The charge was initially filed as a felony, but the court reduced it to a misdemeanor at her sentencing hearing.

Hurt's record also includes misdemeanor offenses of conversion and trespassing.

Tallent, the marshal, said heroin use has been on the upswing and he wants the community to pay attention.

"We're finding a lot of needles right now," Tallent said, noting that this was the second time someone overdosed in Hope. Both victims were revived with the life-saving drug naloxone.

In Indianapolis, use of the life-saving heroin antidote naloxone has climbed rapidly in recent years. In 2013, medics used naloxone 629 times. That jumped to 1,061 in the following year. Last year, it was used 1,225 times. This year, so far, Indianapolis is on track to reach 1,500 naloxone uses.

According to a police report, medics used two doses of naloxone to revive Hurt.

She was treated at Columbus Regional Hospital and later booked on charges of child neglect and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to the police report.

While still rare, one expert said incidents like this are happening more often.

When addicted, access to the drug is all that matters, said Scott Watson, an addiction counselor and the founder of Heartland Intervention in Indianapolis.

"If I'm able to score in the parking lot I'll probably use in the parking lot," Watson said, noting an addict's behavior makes no sense to people without addictions.

Many addicts are so desperate to get high that they don't consider who is around them or who they may be hurting, he said.

"It's not that they don't love their kid," Watson said. "The need to get high is so strong that it overrides the love we have for our parents, the love we have for our kids and the love we have for ourselves."

Contributing: IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky contributed to this story.

Follow Vic Ryckaert on Twitter: @vicryc.


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