A coroner’s duties are something most would choose not to endure. For Porter County, a Coroner’s responsibilities involve investigating deaths to determine cause and manner, the notification to the next of kin, transport, and the drawing of toxicology. In addition, the position also involves administrative duties like budgeting and managing staff. The only good day at the Coroner’s Office is when the phone doesn’t ring and dispatch doesn’t page. Unfortunately for the Coroner’s Office, the call outs and dispatch pages never take a day off. It's difficult to say why anyone would voluntarily take on the responsibilities of this position, let alone for 13 years like Porter County Coroner, Chuck Harris.
“It's been a long time and it really feels longer than it is,” Harris said. “You see a lot that of what many people don’t see. Or, really, want to see. You become aware of problems that people don’t talk about. Like substance abuse, drug addiction, and mental health issues. In my time with this department I wanted to turn all the bad I’ve seen and experienced into knowledge to spread throughout the community and the youth. So, maybe something good can come from it. And hopefully we can stop the same thing from happening again to someone.”
Chuck Harris began his work with the Porter County Coroner’s Office in 2003, when the county coroner at that time hired Harris as a Deputy Coroner. In 2010, he decided to run for County Coroner. Harris had the good fortune of winning the election and took office in early 2011 and was re-elected in 2014. Since taking office, Harris has involved a large portion of his time to community outreach and awareness, especially with High School and Middle School students.
“I’ve been to every high school and middle school in Porter County to speak about my program I call: ‘Choices,’” Harris continued. “The program is all about the choices the students make in their life and how they end up wherever they’re at. It is a substance abuse prevention presentation, but it's also geared at making better decisions in their life.”
In addition to his ‘Choices’ program, Harris speaks at schools for Red Ribbon Week and assisted students in creating the Stick Shock Program. This project involved students stickering alcohol packages throughout Porter County with warnings to adults who purchase alcohol for minors. Harris is a board member on the Porter County Substance Abuse Council and used his resources there to have the program take action throughout the county.
While youth education is a large step to help students see the right path they should stay on, Harris is fully aware there are already too many adults that are still walking down that dark road. While in office, Harris was apart of a committee to represent the Coroner Office to push for the use of NARCAN, an inhalant used to save individuals who have overdosed on opioids.
‘It was a joint committee with the Sheriff's Department, Fagan Pharmacy, Porter Hospital, and several others including Porter Starke Services. All of us on this committee wanted to get this program going. We wanted our police officers to have NARCAN available to them and trained on how to administer it.” Harris explained, “It was a big venture for the officers and very out of the norm for their normal duties, because it's always been the EMS that has provided the care for people they come across. But some of the time, EMS isn’t first on scene, it's the police. This was a change for how law enforcement was working.
A big pull for the project was the benefit of not having to use tax dollars from the county. All the funds received to bring the program into fruition were acquired from grants. The hospitals in the county also replenish the NARCAN every time it is used or expires for free .
“We’re having our first awards for the NARCAN project at a Drunk Driving Task Force event. We’re going to give out awards to each person in law enforcement that has had to distribute NARCAN and save a life. Right now, there’s 50 awards. So, that means 50 people have saved 50 people’s lives just in this country thanks to NARCAN.” Harris said.
While 13 years is a long time in a very difficult and emotionally draining position, Chuck Harris has made the best of it. Tragedies have turned into lessons for others to learn from and the community has developed new methods to deal with rising issues. Looking back, Harris still strives to keep his attention on the youth and their choices.
“Yeah, 13 years is a long time. But, through it all what I’m most proud of my ‘Choices’ program that I put together for the school systems. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I like to think that I’ve put more effort into substance abuse prevention than any other coroner that we’ve had in this county. I hope it's made a difference. Whether it's made a huge difference, I’m not sure. But, if not, I will always keep trying.”