Leader named for Community Response initiative to fight drug epidemic

A retired Cummins executive will direct a new community initiative aimed at Bartholomew County’s opiate addiction epidemic.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop announced at his State of the City address Thursday that Jeff Jones, who retired from Cummins in 2014, will serve as executive director of the Community Response initiative formed through Columbus’ Healthy Communities coalition.

Jones has volunteered for the position and isn’t being compensated, city officials said.

In February, Healthy Communities announced the initiative, to be led by Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop and Columbus Regional CEO and President Jim Bickel.

Lienhoop has publicly identified the opioid overdose issue as one of the top priorities for the city administration this year.

Jones retired as vice president of North American engine business and marketing communications at Cummins.

During his 37 years at Cummins, Jones worked in customer-facing roles including service, field sales and support, market communications and national accounts.

The mayor said Jones will start in his new position April 3, directing the initiative’s efforts focusing on prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.

“We know this will be a difficult assignment, but we are confident in Jeff’s ability to make a difference,” Lienhoop said. “He is smart, energetic and passionate about this subject and looks forward to working with each of us on this challenging issue.”

The initiative began to take shape in November 2016 when Lienhoop convened a roundtable discussion with about 15 area mayors to talk about drug abuse and treatment in southern Indiana.

Lienhoop also asked former Columbus Regional Hospital President John McGinty to talk to the mayor’s group about possible solutions to a lack of local treatment options. McGinty is working with a group from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and Healthy Communities to explore community options.

Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde also spoke at the roundtable discussion and was asked by three of the mayors to visit their communities and share information, Lienhoop said.

Rohde met with 12 other police chiefs last month in Madison to discuss common drug-related issues, starting an ongoing collaboration among law enforcement in the region, Lienhoop said.

“It is too soon to tell where this effort will go, but I can tell you it is an important first step in addressing the drug crisis in our community and it is but a small example of the power of relationships and collaboration,” he said.

The initiative has announced its kickoff event — a talk by Sam Quinones, journalist and the author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” The event is 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 19 at The Commons.

Twelve people in Bartholomew County died from heroin overdoses last year, according to the Bartholomew County Coroner’s office. That is more than the past three years combined with six of those deaths occurring in the first three months of 2016.

In 2016, the county’s emergency operations center received 181 calls about all types of overdoses, compared to 115 in 2015, said Ed Reuter, director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations 911 Center. The numbers reflect overdoses from any cause, including opioids, prescription drugs or other substances, he said.

Key upcoming dates

April 3: Jeff Jones, a retired Cummins executive, to begin as executive director of the Community Response initiative.

April 19: Healthy Communities Council event at The Commons from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. featuring Sam Quinones, journalist and author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” The event is free and registration is not required.

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com