Columbus on alert after heroin-related deaths


Police in Columbus, Indiana say four people have died from heroin in just over four weeks. They say the problem is spreading in neighborhoods across Indiana.

The family of the latest heroin victim spoke with Eyewitness News, one day after their loved one died, to spread the message of the drug's danger.

Tyler Lazzell is still in shock.

"It's not real. I keep thinking it's not. Somebody's gotta pinch me. I don't want to be here," Lazzell said through tears.

His younger brother died early Thursday morning, after taking heroin. The dangerous drug is on more Hoosier streets and is being used by more Hoosier teens than ever before.

"You see what it does to families and you see what it's doing to us now," Lazzell said. "It's the worst drug out there."

Nineteen-year-old Andrew Lazzell - a standout athlete, a young father and a beloved son and brother, was the fourth heroin-related death in Columbus in just over four weeks.

Police call it a crisis. It's one that hit home for a family who never dreamt their teen would use heroin.

"He's not a number. He's got a personality. He's got a family. People think that because he died of drugs that he was low - he was down here. But everybody knows, everybody who knows him, he was up here. He was a good kid and a good man," Lazzell said.

Stopping this dangerous drug is personal for Columbus police, too. Their undercover officers made five heroin buys all of last year. This year, they've already made more than 30.

"Heroin is what we're chasing. It's here," said Columbus Police Lt. Matt Myers.

Police say heroin has surpassed meth and prescription pills in Columbus. They say that's because it's cheaper and easy to get. They're now working harder to bust the dealers.

The city has created a new coalition to stop it and police are also raising awareness for families.

"It is here. The dangers of it, what the community can to do help us. It's not just a law enforcement issue. We need their help. We need to work together and we need to protect our community and our children," Myers said.

A new study shows the number of Hoosier teens using heroin is more than double the national average.

The Indiana Youth Survey found that about one out of every 100 high school seniors in the state uses heroin. Nationally, it's about one-in-300.

Now, a grieving family is warning others about the danger, as they prepare to bury their loved one too soon.

"We had no idea he was using," Lazzell said. "Talk to your kids and tell them you love them. You never know what you have until it's gone."

Help is out there

An addiction counselor told Eyewitness News parents need to talk frankly with their kids about drugs. Be open with them and don't hesitate to open their sock drawer, too.

The raid, the seizure, the problem.

"Black tar heroin," says an undercover police officer holding a handful of wrapped items.

As an undercover narcotics cop, Matt Fillenwarth dealt with it then and deals with it still as Greenwood's assistant police chief.

"Now that's all we see," Fillenwarth says of heroin.

His teams making undercover drug buys on the street say "they've already bought more heroin at this point this year then they did all of last year."

"One of the reasons we're above the national average for heroin is because we've done a good job of actually clamping down on access to the opiate-based pain pills," said Scott Watson, addiction counselor with Heartland Intervention.

Median campaigns urge caution in use and storage of prescription pain killers. Because police know many of the prescription pain pills abused by young people come right from the home medicine chest.

Police say pain pills like oxycontin can be more expensive for teens to buy with street prices from $30 each.

"Oxycontin brought the heroin in. All of a sudden there's a demand for heroin because it's taken the place and it's cheap," Fillenwarth said.

As cheap as $10 a hit, versus $30 or more for one pain pill.

"Addiction tears apart families. Help is available," Watson said.

He says parents can watch for warning signs.

"Favorite activities that are no longer of interest, a change in friends, a dramatic change in behavior," he said.

"Heroin you might find in what looks like little bits of balloon with a knot in it. You almost always see burnt spoons," Fillenwarth said.

You may find the syringe - then find help.

"Treatment is available," says Watson, "and treatment works."

Related links
Criminal Justice Institute on heroin
Learn more about heroin addiction and how to get help.