Special Report: Deadly Dose

So far this year, three people in Benzie County have died from drug overdoses. In 2013 it was four.

Now, county officials are trying to come up with a to help people before they become another statistic.

9&10’s Marisa McKay and photojournalist Jeremy Erickson show us in this special report.

“It’s not that he wanted to use. At first maybe it’s a choice but once you’re addicted you need it to function,” said Keri Schneider, Justin Smith’s step-sister. 

Justin smith is one of the seven in Benzie County who has died from a drug overdose in the last year and a half.

Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said, “I think what’s happening is people are addicted to drugs clearly and heroin and methadone have a very similar effect. If there’s a market, somebody’s going to sell it.”

“We did approximately 160 overdose cases in Benzie County last year. We definitely have seen an increase,” said EMS Director Craig Johnson. “For us to have the deaths that we’ve had though, we’re much higher than what most other areas are.”

For Sara Swanson and prosecutors everywhere, building a case in order to prosecute the dealers can be difficult.

Sheriff Ted Schendel explains, “We can get names, in fact I’ve got names pouring into this county, but just giving us a name isn’t enough. We have a drug culture in this county that’s very close knit and they tend to watch out for themselves.”

Swanson said “that is something that carries a punishment of life in prison, delivery of a controlled substance causing death. If we can find the person, the witness has passed away, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.”

Christopher Hobart died of a drug overdose in February. Swanson says she does believe there is enough evidence to prove Robert Maycroft Junior gave him the methadone that killed him. It’s the first arrest made relating to these overdoses. 

But throwing people in jail isn’t first on the agenda, the top priority is saving lives.

“The deaths that we’ve had here in Benzie County it really comes down to the time its them not realizing or calling when they should,” said Johnson. 

Johnson says EMS crews have an average response time of 10 to 12 minutes.

Sheriff’s deputies may arrive on the scene first, so Benzie decided to have them carry Narcan, an overdose symptom reversal drug.

Johnson says, “it acts on the receptors and it basically bumps out the opiate overdose and brings back their respiratory and level of consciousness.”

Keri Schneider helped get Narcan in Benzie’s squad cars, now she wants to get it to the public.

Sheriff Schendel says, “I’m just hoping that if you can get the Narcan in their hands then maybe they can save one of their friends and hopefully give that friend a second chance.”

While most people agree that deputies getting approval to carry Narcan last year has been a step in the right direction, it’s still not going to fix the problem at its root.

“When I look at Narcan, it’s a reactionary drug. It fixes the immediate problem that’s there but from a community standpoint we need to get more education both parents as well as students,” said Johnson.

Swanson says, “we’re working on putting together a forum for the community with experts in the area of drugs and addictions and substance abuse. This is not something where we’re looking to get anybody in trouble. This really is just an educational thing.”

The sheriff pulled the county’s TNT deputy last year because he’s shorthanded. He agrees having the narcotics team presence back in the county will help. In place right now to deal with this issue is the county’s recovery court, a grant funded initiative.

“People that come into our system that are dependent, we can work with them to rehabilitate them and try to get them off drugs so that they can continue to live in our community and be successful and productive,” explains Swanson.

Whatever steps Benzie County decides to take, moving forward will be a community effort.

“The community needs to be vigilant, watch their neighbors their sons their daughter. Get the help they need before I ever have to see them.”

Sheriff Schendel says, “it’s a combination of everything that’s going to make this problem curtail. Will we ever see an end to it? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s a problem that will ever go away. But we can control it.”

Anyone wanting more information about where to seek help in the Benzie County area can visit The Central Wellness Network and the Benzie County Herion Awareness Facebook Page.