Bartholomew County has been hit with a rash of opioid overdoses and deaths over the past few years, a troubling trend. Many of the incidents have been related to heroin use.

Last year, 12 people in the county died from heroin overdoses, more than the previous three years combined: three in 2013, five in 2014 and one in 2015. Also in 2016, the county’s emergency operations center received 181 calls about all types of overdoses — up from 115 in 2015.

This year is off to a pace that could yield even more overdoses over 12 months’ time, with 22 overdose calls received in January.

While city and county first responders have been able to curb the number of deaths thanks to the availability of the antidote naloxone, that doesn’t address root causes of addiction. The lack of local in-patient drug treatment programs doesn’t help, nor does the fact that more than $11,000 (23 percent) in 2017 funding for local substance-abuse programs has been cut by the Bartholomew County Substance Abuse Council, with less state funds available for distribution.

It’s encouraging to see, then, that a new, formal community partnership has been created to battle the local opioid addiction problem. The hope is that it will identify some solutions, including those that address root causes.

The Healthy Communities Council is taking the lead in this community issue, with Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop and Columbus Regional Health CEO and President Jim Bickel providing direction.

The council is forming three committees to address different aspects of the opioid problem:

  • Education and prevention
  • Law enforcement and judicial tactics
  • Treatment and recovery

The council also is involving the public in this issue, starting with a free event from 6:30-8:30 p.m. April 19 at The Commons, 300 Washington St., where two guest speakers will address the topic of opioid addiction.

These are all good steps, and it’s encouraging to see community stakeholders coming together to tackle this critical issue.

People who are overdosing and dying are someone’s relative or friend. Their lives are important, but they need help to break the cycle of addiction.

A collective effort by key stakeholders and the public is more likely to produce positive results in this battle.