Staff Reports

Columbus Signature Academy students at Central Middle School have donated proceeds from a carnival to Bartholomew County’s efforts to tackle the area’s opioid epidemic.

The students gave $2,700 in proceeds from the May 23 event to ASAP, the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County, during end-of-the-year activities Wednesday at the school.

Eighth-graders Jadi Miller, Rebecca Moore and Emma Edwards, who were among the leaders on the project, said they chose to donate proceeds from the carnival to ASAP because of the organization’s work to address drug issues.

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The alliance was formally named at the “Moving the Needle: Community Forum” in April organized through Healthy Communities, which is part of Columbus Regional Health, the local hospital system, and the Columbus Regional Health Foundation.

Jim Bickel, president and CEO of Columbus’ hospital system, has emphasized in earlier interviews 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.

Jeff Jones, a retired Cummins Inc. executive, is serving as executive lead for the initiative. Jones, who has an office in Columbus City Hall, is working 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.

The three students said they chose ASAP as the recipient because the students said they wanted to raise awareness about the organization’s efforts.

“We knew it was very Bartholomew County-based and we would be helping a lot of people in our community rather than a global effort, which would be good, but we’d be making more of an effect if we donated to them,” Miller said.

While Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) classes for Columbus sixth-graders have been helpful, Miller said focusing on education and prevention needs to continue as students get older.

“I think we all kind of agreed it’s very important to start at the root of the problem,” she said. “If you can prevent it, then you don’t have to go back to intervention and treatment, and it’s good to educate students when they’re young especially because of peer pressure and they can be more vulnerable, I think, in middle school and in high school.”

Beth Morris, who leads the ASAP prevention action team and works with Columbus Regional Health’s Healthy Communities program, accepted the check from the students, saying the funding will be used for education and prevention efforts to help people from becoming addicted.

Targeting youth also is part of ASAP’s focus as it develops plans for student education materials this summer, she said.

Part of the information being targeted toward students is about pain prescriptions and dangers involved with those drugs, Morris said.

“We really want the broad community to understand the risks,” Morris said.

She added that ASAP’s efforts will be important as students may have family members who are struggling with drug addiction and said she hopes to diminish a stigma associated with it.

“People have a lot of shame when they or other family members have addictions, and we want to help minimize that,” Morris said.

Miller also said she has heard of students discovering needles and other drug paraphernalia near the school and believes the information provided by ASAP will give students another resource in knowing what to do if they find such items.

“To think that middle-schoolers are seeing that walking to school or (near) downtown is terrifying,” she said.

Edwards was able to learn about ASAP’s efforts through her involvement in a volunteer-based focus group. While she has learned about the financial and personal ramifications of drug use through discussions in her eighth grade health class, Edwards said she thought additional information provided to students would be beneficial.

“We can always be learning more and more,” Edwards said. “The education will get more serious as we get older because it’s a big problem here.”

She also hoped that ASAP’s work would have a positive impact in the long run.

“If we invest in our youth and with the prevention aspect, maybe we can turn this around,” she said.

About ASAP

The Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County, also known as ASAP, was launched in April. The entire effort is being overseen by three local community leaders: Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop and Jim Bickel, president and CEO of Columbus Regional Health.

ASAP has an organizational structure with action teams focused on prevention, intervention and treatment and recovery from opiate addictions. Jeff Jones, a retired Cummins mechanical engineer, is leading ASAP in a volunteer role.