Indiana Amish Tackle “Creeping” Heroin Problem

It might surprise you to read the words “Amish” and “heroin” in the same sentence. But Amish people are hardly immune to the scourge of drug abuse.

Amish in Wayne County, Indiana recently invited former addict and anti-heroin campaigner Michael DeLeon to speak to their community. RTV6 did a story on the meeting, accompanied by a pair of videos.

In the first video below (videos unavailable), DeLeon and “Amish elder” (I assume they mean bishop) Ben Stoltzfus discuss the problem. In the clip, heroin use is described as “rampant” in Amish settlements in Pennsylvania and other places.

To bring in an outside speaker means there is real reason for concern among the Amish in this eastern Indiana settlement (which has close ties to Lancaster County, its parent community). “We’re subject to the same,” says Stoltzfus. “It’s just slowly creeping in here.”

Drugs an issue in other Amish communities

Hearing about drug use among the Amish thwarts the stereotype of a life of idyllic isolation.

But Amish life is not isolated from these issues. DeLeon’s presence in this community reflects real people dealing with real challenges.

Some Amish might point the finger at the nature of life today in some Amish communities, especially the larger ones.

Truth be told I have actually heard more often about drug use in northern Indiana, with its faster culture of intense RV factory shift work (read more on three challenges to Amish life presented by the RV industry).

I recently heard that a more innocuous drug, Adderall (a stimulant commonly used to treat ADHD) is becoming popular among youth of that settlement. Methamphetamine has also been a concern in that community, dating back nearly a decade if not further.

Other Amish settlements have dealt with drug abuse as well, as can be seen in this article on drug parties in Holmes County, Ohio, or the open forum on drug issues called by Amish bishops in Geauga County, Ohio.

Kudos to the leadership in this Wayne County community not being afraid to bring in an outsider to tackle an issue that might have been treated as taboo, or simply ignored in another era. What motivated them to do so?

By what Stoltzfus says in the second video above, they have had occurrences within their own community (this is not a giant settlement, but neither is it small, at around 1,000 people).

They are probably well aware of the problem in other Amish areas, not to mention in the surrounding non-Amish community. In East Central Indiana, including Wayne County, heroin use is described as “epidemic.”

Deleone describes his mission in the area as educating Amish parents so they can be aware of signs of use among their children. Area pastor Jeff Shafer adds, “Amish are people too…It’s a human problem, isn’t it?”

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    1. Mark -- Holmes Co.

      I am glad to see this move towards educating youth & parents. Drug abuse is very much present in our community and it is discouraging to see how many parents & leaders fail to take it seriously.

    2. Debbie H

      drug use

      So sad to hear this. I figured maybe pot and coke but heroin never occurred to me. I guess the Amish parents are no different than any other parent, hard to accept child’s addiction so deny it. Prayers for all young people and parents.

    3. Alice Mary

      The former teacher who served as our “step-on bus tour guide” for the last 2 Shipshewana, IN trips I’ve taken in the last 3 years confirmed the Amish youth drug problem there. She also commented on the “big money” available to young Amish who work in the RV factories in the area which opens up many temptations–cell phones, cars, drugs among them.

      I salute these Amish for seeking outside help.

      Alice Mary

    4. AJ

      The drug use among Amish is bigger then most people realize. I hope they do get outside help because I don’t think they know how serious this is and they don’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t believe it when I first heard it but saw it with my own eyes on construction crews. I think the “big money” is part of it but part of it is turning their kids loose without any kind of supervision and without other activities for them.

      1. Amish Girl-Rebecca

        Although, i do agree that the problem is bigger than many people realize, I want to disagree on one thing. In many communities there are other activities that are parent supervised, but many kids choose not to attend those. Here in Holmes there are various youth activities that youth can be a part of that are decent and parent-supervised. You have choices. You can choose to be with decent God-fearing young people in an uplifting atmosphere , with parental supervision. In the end each person will make their own choices, they are not just turned loose.

        1. Anonymous

          Okay so there are some who might live a Godly life. I never thought that all Amish kids are wild, but I have Amish all around me and I don’t see anything that could be called “supervised.” There are Amish parents who have no idea where their 16,17,18 or whatever old kids are from Fri night to Mon morning and don’t know who there are with or what they are doing. Along with all the awesome scenery Amish Country around here means underage binge-drinking, drugs, DUI and loud parties.

          1. Amish Girl-Rebecca

            In no way was I trying to refute or deny what is going on, only trying to give a balanced view. Nor am I naive or clueless about such things, (in fact as you can read in my one other comment-it struck pretty close to home) but so often it seems a whole group is judged for the actions of some. Here in the largest Amish community we have 10 “parent-supervised”/singing groups, among the Old-order alone. There is no actual count, but I would estimate there are around 700 total youth in these groups. I have no idea how many new-order youth groups there are in this area. But, since there is nothing sensational about spending Sunday night singing or Friday night playing volleyball, or singing in nursing homes or planting potatoes for a fund-raiser or “whatever” – you don’t hear much about it. And, yes it may be easier for smaller communities to have a better youth environment, but neither are those all equal. I know for a fact that both Lancaster and N. Indiana have at least some parent-supervised groups. I also fully agree that it’s too bad so many youths’ parents don’t keep tabs on them. But this already starts long before they’re youth.

            1. Lara


              If I was a teenager that had a choice between singing “How Great Thou Art” at a nursing home versus doing heroine at a hut party, I’d go to the party. Seems like there is no balance. Perhaps if the teenagers could wear what they want, dye their hair pink, get piercings and listen to hard rock (Christian and secular), they would be able to express their teenage angst and rebellion in a safe way. Drugs, sex, drunkenness are not safe. Sorry but I think with so much strictures and ice growing up as soon as they are “free” they actually go wilder.

    5. KF

      I can vouch for AJ’s comment. We had a very bad experience with an Amish crew. The crude language was a surprise to us but the stench of pot being smoked on our property was a shock. I would never consider hiring another crew with Amish on it unless I had a promise that there would be no foul language or illicit substance use on our property. I know they are not all guilty of it, but it sure disappointed us. We wanted an Amish crew because we admired their workmanship, values, and reputation. At least the workmanship lived up to our expectations!

      1. I have also heard stories like this from time to time. Not the norm but probably not what you bargained for KF. Just curious, were these younger guys? Did you ask them to stop and if so how did they respond?

        1. KF

          I have heard of other people who have had similar experiences with Amish construction crews using illegal substances. The ones we determined were using pot were younger but the foreman and two others were much older. Not only did we ask them to stop we asked the foreman to not bring these guys back. What blew us away was not just the fact there was no apology but the foreman making excuses that they are “just young kids” and not with the church. We told him we were feeling we should call the law but he talked us out of it and said he’d take care of it. In hindsight, we should have made that call.

          1. Mark -- Holmes Co.

            KF, I am so sorry to read of your experiences. I know it happens! I kind of wish you would have called the law… If the foreman know this was going on and was not taking responsibility, he needs to be held accountable. I’m afraid too many people have the same “excuses” as he had. Rebecca made very good comments on this issue, but the fact remains that this IS going on and as long as we have adults who will look the other way or make excuses, it will continue.

          2. Jason Scwartzman

            Well I think it’s pretty hysterical that because some young construction workers Amish or not were smoking weed that our response is to call the police. Weed is almost legal in half the United States and hopefully will become legal in all 50 states. With that said we should make alcohol and tobacco illegal. To the point of some your expectations you must live in a close minded reality to think that da majority of the construction industry is deep in the weed using lifestyle and some of the most intelligent people throughout history were weed smokers. So let’s get with the times people.

    6. Judith


      Heroin use is a scourge everywhere in the US. I’m not surprised that some youth are users. The fact that the Amish are taking a proactive step towards educating the youth on Heroin – is the smartest (and only) possible solution to the crisis. When one is not exposed to the detriments of drug use – when one does not see the homelessness, tooth decay, swollen legs and ankles, sores, red faced, constricted pupils, wasted bodies, wasted minds that heroin use can induce – then one thinks it might be a fun drug. If one has never been told that after one snort or injection – one could be hooked for life, that one could die in a moment from a bad dose, that one will lose their job, friends and family – their home – all from a single injection – then one tends to think it’s a party drug. It’s not. It is the single most addictive substance known to mankind. It is the most destructive substance known to mankind. And those who do get clean – are never the same. They look like the walking dead – always hungry for more, knowing they can never have that.

      If you live in the city – you see this. If you live in the wheat covered hills of the country – you don’t see this, so you don’t know. It is this very paradox that can cause those already living in an insular Heaven to slip down into a very public Hell.

      I wonder how many Amish parents educate their children on the consequences of drug use. And if they found them with drug paraphernalia, what would they do? Would they send them to a rehab? Would they deal with it themselves?

      Knowledge is not only power – it is a great deterrent.

    7. Judith

      Also – I do want to add, where there is Heroin use – there is crime and decay.

      Addiction to Heroin will cause a son to steal from his Father, a daughter to lie to her mother – Heroin addiction is so powerful, it can cause a mother to leave and neglect her children. The addiction is so strong that people will murder for it.

      Heroin is no joke. I have lived in Los Angeles, New York City, Paris, Madrid, San Francisco and San Diego – and I have seen what Heroin can do to a family and even to an entire neighborhood. I can’t imagine the destruction it would wreak on a community as innocent and trusting as the Amish. It could destroy it from within.

      I daresay – if this Heroin “problem” is real – then it could be the worst thing to happen to the Amish since the persecution in Europe in the late 16th century.

    8. Anonymous

      In answer to Judith’s question about what Amish parents might do after finding drug paraphernalia, the answer is often “nothing.” They might warn their kids that it’s dangerous but because they don’t know the real risks, they just hope they’ll “grow out of it” and “settle down” once they join the church. However the number of young married Amish people still battling addictions show this hope-it-goes-away approach is NOT working. Trust me. I live in the middle of an Amish community.

      1. Judith


        I am sad to hear that, anonymous. I could see how many Amish parents would not have a clue as to how dangerous, powerful and destructive heroin is. And to not know how to respond to it.

        All the more urgent that the entire Amish Community get educated on it.

        If one wants to see the Devil incarnate – evil personified – then by all means try heroin. I hear the short high is amazing – but also the suffering afterwards is akin to special kind of Hell. And a hellish existence that does not end. Post Acute Withdrawals can last for years. It’s not worth it. One can – and will – lose everything on heroin, including their very soul.

    9. Kate

      So my question is why the bishops are not doing more to protect their people? Aren’t they supposed to be responsible for the spiritual well-being of their flocks? Does a “shepherd” let the “lambs” play with the “wolves”?

    10. Judith


      Kate – the Bishops might also not know what to do. Beating addiction is not about will power – it’s about science and connection. In specific – biochemical reactions in the brain that are triggered by the absence of, or the presence of, connections made in one’s environment. To understand addiction, how it comes about, (and we’re seeing that isolation is one of the major causes of addiction) – the Bishop’s have a lot of reading and studying to do. They can’t just say – “Don’t do heroin!” – they have to find out why this is happening – why the kids are choosing it – and then changing the environment that steers kids towards that choice.

      Here is an excellent video about how heroin addiction starts – and how one can stop it.

      I don’t think it’s quite as simple as the video suggests – but I think on the whole it is accurate. Addiction is very complex. And the poor Bishops probably don’t know what to do yet.

      1. Judith, belatedly, thanks for your thoughtful contributions here on dangers of heroin. I remember it as a 90s drug–reading about actors or musicians overdosing at that time–but haven’t heard about it so much in the media in recent years. I always had the impression it was the most powerful or risky in terms of how easily it was to become addicted, or to die from an overdose. Whether it is “the worst” or something close to it, I think it’s safe to say it’s not one to mess around with.

        And good point about it not being enough to say “don’t”. That approach might work with some children and youth, but certainly not all. Hopefully enough are also asking questions like “why” and “what’s missing”.

      2. Rhonda


        Judith- based on your posts, you are clearly well educated bout adddiction issues. While I understand the Amish are not immune to the same societal evils the dominant community experiences, going with the “connection theory,” I am a bit baffled about addiction amongst the Amish. Based on the premise that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.” (Johann Hari, “Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days on the War on Drugs”)– it would seem that the Amish with their close-knit communities and strong family support system would dispel this theory.

        If the Amish with their strong connectiveness are experiencing addiction within the fold, it would seem to me that even with connection, that alone is not a cure or safeguard from addiction. The disease of Substance Use Disorder is so poorly understood even within the medical community; much more research needs to be done.

        I am wondering if the Amish parents of addicts are getting the emotional support they so desperately need as a result of the devastating affects of the family disease of addiction?

    11. Amish Girl-Rebecca

      This article and the comments have made me beyond sad, because it is sadly the truth for too many people, but also sheds such a terrible light to those around us. Actually no light will “shine ” through a smokey chimney. I totally agree with Judith that many parents do not understand the dangers, while there are those who seemingly turn a blind eye, there are also many who are innocent (or maybe more like naive) of what there kids are into. I’m glad people are getting education about it. I also do know, not all parents turn a blind eye. I personally know of a case where a Father (who is also a bishop) , with the help of his son, called in the cops , on his own daughter. We need more watchful Mothers, like this one who found the evidence, and Fathers who stand for right no matter what. Please, please pray for us, I believe these are the last times and Satan is throwing his fiery darts in wherever he can, because he knows that he doesn’t have much time. So, let’s earnestly beseech the throne for these young souls, let’s speak up, spread the word. If you know Amish bishops, ministers, Fathers: please warn them, print this off, and hand it out or mail it to them. If even one soul could be saved it would be worth it. Last, but not least DO NOT condemn everyone for the sins of a few, instead pray for us that we can stand strong and shed rays of light into the darkness around us. Evil would like to overtake us all, but in the end God will be the judge, what will matter is how we lived for him, not are we Amish or not. And I will say this much – There are Amish who are Christians, non-Amish who are Christians, and Amish who (sadly) are non-Christians. By the fruits , ye shall know the tree.

      1. Judith


        Rebecca – I hear you. Yes, to judge an addict, to throw them in jail, to curse them or make them feel inferior for not being able to conquer addiction – when they are in the throes of addiction – is possibly the worst thing one can do. The more isolated and low they feel, the more they will want to continue to use. I believe one can be addicted to heroin and still be a Christian.

        I know that sounds radical – but addiction is like AIDS. It is a disease. It is a disease that one can catch by making just one wrong decision. And I don’t think that one decision should define a person for the rest of their lives. The teens who are hooked on heroin for more than a month, probably want to be free of it, but can’t because of the biochemical markers in the brain won’t free them. The brain fools the person into thinking they need the drug or they will die. When actually the opposite is true. It is the disease itself that is bad – not the user.

        I believe the only way to stop a user from using heroin is to for the user to want to stop using. Once the addict says “this isn’t fun anymore, I’m not getting high anymore, I’m just taking it to feel normal” – then it’s time for the parents and community to step up to the plate and help them through immense love, immense patience, making sure they are surrounded by love at all times, soothing them through the physical withdrawals for six to eight weeks, finding out where they were buying the drug, cutting off all ties with other users, never leaving the recovering addict alone – and finally, never judging them for their mistake of using in the first place. The recovering addict will need new connections to people that are clean, sober and well-loved. The addict needs to feel valued, respected and cared for – just like any person with a disease. To throw them in jail – could cause a relapse when they get out. Love is the cure.

        But alas – for about 5% of heroin users – nothing will work. I believe God loves them still – because heroin addiction is so strong – they suffer tremendously. All God asks of us – is to try our best. And sadly for some – their best will not match the strength of their disease. Their lives will be cut short, tragically.

        All because of that first decision to try heroin.

        So it is imperative that the community educate the youth before that first hit of heroin. Out of all the drugs on this planet – heroin is the most dangerous, the most difficult to conquer, the most life-changing to the user.

        I will pray, Rebecca, for the Amish youth that they know the wisdom of God.

      2. Rebecca, I appreciate you sharing the Amish perspective as always. I also think this post and discussion would be useful for parents and leaders who maybe don’t have as much information about this drug. So I echo you in hoping those who know Amish people who might appreciate this information (and/or other useful info on the drug) will print and share it.

      3. Dave


        Thank you for sharing. Is the heroin problem as bad with the Amish who stay on the farm?

    12. Dan H.

      Drugs among the Amish? Even Heroin? – Not really a surprise for somebody who has seen “Devil’s Playground”. In this film drug abuse among Amish young people is clearly shown, and the film is now 14 years old!

      1. Anonymous

        I never saw it but I probably don’t need to because I see it in real life.

      2. How "rampant" is drug use among Amish?

        I remember one question I had on viewing that film was how representative the youth featured in that film were. Northern Indiana has a reputation as a wilder community in terms of youth behavior.

        On a similar note, heroin use is described as “rampant” by DeLeon in the first video above. To me, rampant is a very strong word. From Merriam Webster:

        “used to describe something that is very common or that is spreading very quickly and in a way that is difficult to control”

        His meaning could have been either the first part – very common – or spreading very quickly. Either one does not sound good. But I also wonder how rampant is rampant. And does rampant seem more “rampant” in an Amish setting where one would assume drugs are less likely to be found than in say an urban setting.

        1. Dan H.

          I few days ago I had a long conversation with a young Amish couple. Both were born in Northern Indiana, but their parents moved to smaller Amish communities in other states because of the rowdy behavior of many young people in the Northern Indiana communities.

          Both of them approved the problems (including the drug abuse) in Northern Indiana but also stated, that in smaller communities it’s different.

          The problem in Northern Indiana is not only that there are two large settlements (Elkart-LaGrange and Nappanee), that are not very conservative, the problem is also that many young Amish earn a lot of money in the recreational vehicle industry.

    13. N. Indiana drug program

      Interestingly, Amish in N. Indiana have also taken some public action to address drug issues. I can’t access the Elkhart Truth site for some reason, but a copy of the article is at the link below. I found this bit interesting and maybe not *entirely* believable:

      Indiana State Police Senior Trooper David Caswell of the Bremen post developed the program and addressed Amish of all ages on two consecutive evenings. Amish leaders in the community requested the presentations to better understand the issues, but not because of any ongoing drug problems within the local Amish community.

      Of course whether or not there are ongoing drug problems or not, good for the leaders to address the issue.

    14. John M. Zielinski

      Heroin addiction

      In the 1990s Indiana Heritage Magazine described me as “the foremost chronicler of the Amish in America today” In the 1990s working with an ex=Mennonite minister I talked to Amish bishops and other in the area of Shipshewana Middlebury about the U.S. government sponsored drug distribution system. The CIA/Military have been responsible for the spreading of drugs across America. At the time an ice route had been taken over while the owner was on vacation and the new owners began offering pot and other free samples as they delivered ice. You can find my programs all over the internet You Tube, etc, check You Tube under Americas MIA Children” all in small letters together my website. Check with historian Leonard Gross out of Goshen–the Mennonites have tried to keep a lid on the spread of drugs for more than 20 years. I worked with Lester Smith out of the Budget and my films on the Amish were on National Public TV and three hour long ones on Ohio Public TV