HANCOCK COUNTY (WTHR) – Heroin addiction has been called a scourge. It’s been called an epidemic. But rarely do we hear about solutions.

Officials in Hancock County are trying to change that. They’ve got a new approach to the heroin problem called a “heroin protocol.” It trades some jail time and required rehab instead of a prison sentence.

Andrew Mercer considers himself lucky.

“My life is falling back into place slowly but surely,” he said.

His addiction to heroin started like many. After a work injury, he was prescribed pain pills, which he took for a year.

“Then I was taken off of them just completely cold turkey,” said Mercer.

For a while he bought pills on the street.

“Became too expensive and I started buying heroin and before I knew it, my life was pretty much out of control,” he said.

In July, this 34 year-old father ended up in the Hancock County jail.

“I missed my daughter’s first birthday, I missed her first words, I missed her first steps,” he said.

That encouraged him give up drugs and pushed him to take a chance.

“The idea for us is not to criminalize addiction but to hold people accountable to their behaviors associated with it,” explained Amy Ikerd with the Hancock County Probation Department.

The so-called “heroin protocol”- a pilot program in Hancock County – required Andrew to spend 90 days behind bars. But instead of sending him to prison, a judge ordered him to rehab. He’s allowed to leave to see his family.

“Our little girl is 16 months. Our little boy is gonna be 3,” he says pointing to a picture.

And go to his full-time job.

“It’s definitely a different way of life. I’m learning to live my life without drugs as an option. And that’s the best way to feel,” he said.

In just 8 months, officials say they are seeing mostly positive outcomes.

“Somebody that was in jail and somebody that was committing crimes to somebody that’s an upstanding person in society and has a job and is active and engaged, well, that’s success,” explained Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton.

Success for Andrew means a life without heroin.

“It exists out there but it doesn’t exist here. I won’t ever put my family in that position again, I won’t ever put myself in that position again,” said Mercer.

His wedding band and watch, which he once pawned for drug money, are now back in his possession.

Courtesy of WTHR