When the question-and-answer session opened at “Moving the Needle: Community Forum,” a bit of impatience emerged from some community members. They heard an overview, but wanted specifics.

Help for parents

Former Indiana State Police trooper Tamara Watson of Columbus complimented the community on the large turnout but questioned why organizers had not provided more suggestions for people to follow immediately in finding solutions to the heroin epidemic.Noting there had been two drug overdoses in Bartholomew County, one of them fatal, within 24 hours prior to the forum, Watson said parents need more specific information.

Watson asked how teenagers are becoming addicted to heroin and what parents can do to help them.

Event speaker Dr. Kendall Stewart, an Ohio psychiatrist, advised parents to go home and empty the medicine cabinet of expired or unneeded drugs and dispose of them properly.

Stewart also told parents to be honest about the continuum of abuse that starts with alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use and can evolve into more serious addictions.

“If you are abusing drugs, stop,” he said. “If you are abusing alcohol, stop and get it out of the house.”

Stewart advocated starting peer programs in area high schools with the goal of impressing on the student population that staying healthy and drug-free is a far better route to being popular than abusing drugs and alcohol.

“Kids pay attention to their peers, and it does have an impact,” he said.

Gaps to address

Jeff Jones, executive lead for the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP) in Bartholomew County, said Wednesday night’s event at The Commons was planned as an overview about the heroin epidemic. Although many people in attendance have been working on parts of the problem for some time, Jones only began in his position on April 3.Responding to a question about whether the initiative will consider an inpatient treatment center or a needle-exchange program, Jones said many of the questions and suggestions being raised were gaps in the community’s response to the epidemic so far, and were being noted. Among those was a crisis center where families could get resource information to get help for a family member.

The need for an in-patient drug treatment center will be “one of the most complex early issues we attack,” Jones said.

Another suggestion to Jones was that people who have been addicted be included in the input process about future plans in dealing with the heroin epidemic.

He also plans to look at ways individuals can provide continuing ideas and feedback to the initiative teams about potential solutions.

Requesting resources

The lack of an in-patient drug treatment center locally has caused some individuals to return to Columbus and not know what to do when their prescription for suboxone — a heroin-addiction drug designed to reduce cravings — runs out. Stewart advised that individuals should go to a hospital emergency room in those instances, as they should not go off the medication unless under a doctor’s care.“If they take it and then stop, the relapse rate is north of 70 percent,” Stewart said.

Jones said the faith community in Columbus has been vital in helping educate the community and may be a resource in providing input from people who are in recovery.

How individuals can get information they need about heroin addiction is one area the initiative will address, Jones said.

Prescription guidelines

Some in the audience questioned the continuing practice of some physicians to over-prescribe pain medications for procedures where they are not needed. Mary Kohen of Columbus questioned why doctors are continuing to give 30 Percocet or Lortabs — combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone — when in many instances only five tablets might be needed.Stewart explained that the federal Centers for Disease Control has released guidelines in how to properly prescribe medications, and doctors follow those, but new guidelines are gradually being implemented as a way to change the current addiction climate.

Born addicted

A woman from Jennings County asked about the long-term affects of being addicted to heroin, particularly infants who are born addicted.Stewart said babies born addicted are at a greater risk for mental disorders, and specifically conduct disorders such as attention deficit disorder. The only response is to identify the disorders, usually in the school environment, and treat them, he said.

Disposing of prescription medications

Ongoing drug-dropoff locations in Columbus where local residents may drop off unwanted and unneeded painkillers include:

  • Walgreens, 2400 Beam Road, Columbus (drop-off location is next to the pharmacy inside the store)
  • Columbus Regional Hospital emergency room, 2400 17th St., Columbus
  • Indiana State Police and other police agencies sponsor drug-dropoff events several times throughout the year that are posted on social media and through public-service announcements.

A new initiative name

During Wednesday’s “Moving the Needle: Community Forum,” organizers announced a new name for the substance abuse initiative.

Under the acronym ASAP, the initiative will now be known as the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County.

ASAP is being organized through Healthy Communities, which is part of Columbus Regional Health, the local hospital system, and the Columbus Regional Health Foundation.

Jim Bickel, who leads Columbus’ hospital system, outlined the organizational strategy being formed as a response.

Bickel emphasized that the effort is not a Healthy Communities initiative or a Columbus Regional Health initiative, but rather one that needs to involve the entire community.

Bickel introduced Jeff Jones, a retired Cummins, Inc. executive, who is serving as executive lead for the initiative. Jones, who has an office in Columbus City Hall, will work with Bickel, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop and Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop to direct three action teams to work on the substance-abuse addiction epidemic.

Faith-based organizations, law enforcement, the court system, social services and health officials are among segments of the community trying to find a solution, he said.

A three-prong organizational structure for the initiative has been formed with Jones as executive lead, including:

  • An action team on prevention will be led by Beth Morris, who leads Healthy Communities, who will work with employers, the educational system, social service organizations and mental health services.
  • Bartholomew Circuit Judge Kelly Benjamin is leading the intervention action team, which has law enforcement, employers and the court system.
  • Julie Abedian, Columbus Regional Health vice president for community partnerships and corporate responsibility, is leading the treatment and recovery action team, with health stakeholders, behavioral health provider Centerstone, employers and others.

Community resources


What: Outpatient or partial hospitalization mental health facility

Address: 720 N. Marr Road

Offers: Programs for individuals with mental health and substance-abuse disorders

Information: 812-348-7449 or visit https://centerstone.org/

Celebrate Recovery

What: Faith-based 12 Steps and 8 Recovery Principles program to help individuals work through issues with alcohol, drugs, pornography, food addictions, gambling and unhealthy relationships.

9 a.m. Mondays, Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St., co-ed meeting for adults; 1 hour in length, no child care available.

6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road; two specialized groups for men and women, child care available

11 a.m. Wednesdays, women-only group at Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St.; no child care available

12:15 p.m. Wednesdays, men-only group at Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St.; no child care available

11 a.m. Fridays, Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St.; co-ed meeting for adults, about one hour, no child care available.

No registration necessary.

Information: 812-348-6257 or visit cccolumbus.org/communitychurch/celebrate_recovery

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Intensive Outpatient Program

What: Evidence-based, 16-week outpatient treatment program for addiction to alcohol, drugs or prescription medication. Includes therapy, recovery, relapse prevention, family education, social support and drug testing, includes group therapy and 12-step programming. Fees based on ability to pay, has contacts with Community Corrections and county probation department for the Recovery Works program.

Where: 719 Fifth St.

To learn more: http://stpeterscolumbus.org/ministries/life-works

Note: St. Peter’s also offers Celebrate Recovery sessions from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Fridays; people do not need to be a member of the church to attend. For more information, visit stpeters-columbus.org.

Free Indeed Addictions Ministry

What: Faith-based addiction ministry offering support group meetings and programming.

6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays for food and fellowship in the Who So Ever Will Community Church Fellowship Hall, 623 Eisenhower Drive, Edinburgh

Information: Pastor Lewis Burton, 812-350-7026

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.