Heroin in the Heartland

Matthew Koch

UPDATE: 23-year-old Cara Crane died from an overdose Monday. Her family is making funeral arrangements Tuesday in Boone County. Her mother Michelle has requested a full toxicology report and says an autopsy is being done. Michelle says Cara had three overdoses in the past three weeks. Cara's 29-year-old old brother, Chad, was recently released from jail and is currently drug free.


If you think of heroin, perhaps images of Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain or maybe even a dark alley come to mind. But police say the heroin user today is shooting up in the heartland and may look nothing like a junkie.

Mike Koch knows that all too well, holding up the picture of his bright eyed 23-year-old son Matthew, asking, "Does this look like a heroin addict to you? He wasn't. This is a kid that got with the wrong people at the wrong time, tried something and was hooked on it.

Mike's wife Pam laments that "it doesn't take much to get hooked on it. Three or four times and you are lost, lost to it forever."

Mike and Pam Koch of the tiny eastern Indiana town of Winchester buried their Matthew, less than 24 hours before granting the interview. Their house and even their garage was overflowing with flowers from the funeral. The obituary in the Muncie paper left no doubt as to what happened. Mike saw no need to hide the facts.

"So many people sugarcoat it or [say] 'died unexpectedly' or...I mean, as hard as it is to face, our son died in a flea bag hotel of a heroin overdose and that is the way it was," he said.

That ending was especially painful for the Kochs. Matthew is the third of their four boys and was drug free the last seven months. Even Matthew's old dark poems about addiction were recently replaced by new ones full of optimism.

"I'm beating this devil. It's never going to hold me down again," reads his mother.

But last week, Matthew took a call and accepted in invitation from member of his old gang.

"I don't know whether it was one capsule or one syringe or however that is, but one evening and he was gone, " Pam said.

Death due to heroin. The Kochs say it's far from the first in Randolph County and predict it won't be the last.

The sheriff agrees. According to Sheriff Ken Hendrickson of Randolph County, "For every OD we know of, you know there are ten that go unreported."

Hendrickson says much of the heroin seized along the state's Ohio border is a powder packed in capsules containing a tenth of a gram and is sold for ten dollars.

"It's too cheap. It's too easy of a buzz for kids to get. It's cheaper than a six-pack," said Pam. "So they can't get their hands on alcohol when you are under 18 but you can sure get your hands on a good cap of heroin."

What to watch out for

This is what you may not know and need to look out for. Powder heroin maybe packed in a balloon or folded in foil. There is also a more potent black tar heroin which is increasingly coming through central Indiana.

Ken Campbell of the Boone County Sheriff's Department added, "Now we are seeing it in nicer communities in Carmel, in Zionsville, in nice homes in Lebanon and in Thorntown."

Heroin can be snorted, smoked or injected. The paraphernalia includes syringes and spoons.

Campbell warns against underestimating the threat.

"It can happen and it is happening here and if you don't believe it is, you are wrong. You are just flat wrong," he said.

A cheap, dangerous high

Police believe heroin use is up because people can get high for the cost of going to a movie. It's a lot cheaper than popular prescription pills like hydrocodone which now have a street value of $60 to $80.

But with heroin, potency and purity are always a gamble.

"They never know what they are getting and all they are doing is playing Russian roulette," said Sheriff Hendrickson.

In Marion County, Catherine Cummings with the Marion County Office of Public Safety said her "detectives are certainly seeing a trend toward the younger, the more educated, the more suburban user of heroin right now."

The growing problem in Zionsville is such a concern to Officer Joe Dennemann that he came in while off-duty to make sure the word gets out.

Dennemann says often heroin is right in front of parents and they don't see it.

"All the time, all the time it's in front of them. I've spoken to many people who have admitted to heroin use at the high school," he said.

Today's heroin user more likely resembles John and Cara who are now 19 and 18 years old. They are friends from Boone County who say they first tried heroin during Lebanon High School senior skip day last year.

"I remember it was the first time I stuck a needle in my arm," said John.

"I didn't know what heroin even was. The name that I was told when I first did this was 'boy.' 'Boy' is what is was called," added Cara.

John pulled up his sleeve to reveal a scar on his left arm from where he used to shoot up. Cara said she never injected herself; she had friends inject her.

"I would do it on my hands. I've done it on my feet before. Just really anywhere where a good vein is at," she said.

John said he used up to ten packs a day. Cara says she got hooked the first time she tried heroin.

Both believe their parents were unaware of their habit until they shared their secret. They finally spoke up because the quick heroin rush disappeared just as quickly, leaving them feeling sick. It got so bad, they eventually need daily heroin - just to feel normal.

"I would wake up; that is all I would think about until I went to sleep that night," Cara said. Her mother Michelle had a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that her daughter could use.

"No matter how upset it made her, I knew she would want what I wanted. I wanted help," said Cara.

John and Cara were lucky. They had insurance that covered costly rehab. Both say they are drug-free right now. Cara has a sponsor.

"When I feel like I am going to relapse it's just like one phone call and I'm over it," she said.

John knows the risk of relapse is significant. "Every single moment it worries me because I know in the back of my head that I could go do it at any moment," he said.

That addiction, lure and risk is what Mike want his neighbors to understand. He opted to speak impromptu at a public meeting to share his story. He stood in the same spot as the receiving line at his son's funeral the night before.

"I don't know how many kids; I made them look at my son lying there in his casket and say this is door number three in drugs. You got door number one, a good clean life. You got door number two, you are a heroin addict. There is no door number three. It is death that is the end of a heroin addict," said Mike.

The Kochs are forever changed. Without Matthew they are more raw, more blunt and more determined to reveal there is heroin in the heartland and while the user's face may have changed, the habit is as deadly as ever.

Concerned families have set up a fund called CLEAN, Can Live Everyday Alive and New, through the Community Foundation of Boone County. The fund was set up to provide rehabilitation for families needing financial assistance.