Potential solutions under review for growing opioid problem

Up to 100 proposed solutions to address the opioid crisis in Bartholomew County are being reviewed and refined as the number of overdose deaths continues to rise.

Jeff Jones, executive lead for the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP) in Bartholomew County, provided statistics on the severity of the opioid problem during an address Monday night at the Bartholomew County Public Library, sponsored by the Zonta Club:

17 deaths from drug overdoses were reported in the Columbus area through June, with a projected year-end total of 34.

Despite perceptions that heroin is primarily causing the local overdoses, most have been the result of prescription pills.

More than 1,000 Bartholomew County residents have an addiction problem, and about 70 percent of them are facing some form of incarceration.

There has been a tide of infants showing withdrawal systems born from mothers addicted to opioids.

The number of young adults ages 18 to 25 that have used heroin has more than doubled in the past decade.

The number of Bartholomew County children placed under some form of child protective custody has risen from 161 five years ago to 413 this year, due largely to the opioid crisis.

“To solve a problem, you have to acknowledge there is a problem,” Jones told the audience of about 30 people at the library.

Formed in April, ASAP has been working in collaboration with 44 community leaders, organizations and businesses to develop proposals to address the opioid crisis, Jones said.

Proposed solutions address the crisis on three fronts: prevention (education), intervention (law enforcement, courts, government) and treatment/recovery (inpatient and outpatient providers), Jones said.

The group’s goal will be to implement all solutions simultaneously, rather than phasing them in one by one, no later than April 2019, Jones said.

Jones, a Cummins Inc. retiree now heading ASAP as a volunteer, said the group will present its six-month update to the community at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at The Commons.

After hearing that 4 out of 5 new heroin users transitioned from prescribed medication to the illegal narcotic, audience member Zach Ellison asked what incentive physicians have for not prescribing addicting drugs.

Jones said he believes the opioid crisis requires the medical community to rethink its concept of pain management.

As ASAP prepares to move into its implementation stage, two new staff members have been brought on board, Jones said.

Rachel Brown will serve ASAP as communications director, while Rhonda Fisher will be program manager, he said.

ASAP representatives have been making visits to other communities to gain insight into fighting the opioid crisis.

One was to the Recovery Engagement Center in Bloomington, designed to be a hub for recovery and to serve as a clearing house for community resources, including treatment referrals, Jones said.

The other was a new opioid-addiction treatment clinic that opened last fall in Decatur, Illinois. Managed jointly by a medical organization and a mental health provider, the new clinic was funded through a $405,000 federal grant obtained from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, he said.

ASAP implementation timetable

A revised timetable regarding proposed solutions to the opioid crisis has been released by the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County:

  • Review by Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioner chairman Carl Lienhoop and Columbus Regional Health CEO Jim Bickel: Now through the end of this week.
  • Review by the Healthy Community Council: Sept. 7
  • ASAP finalizes proposed solutions: Sept. 11-30
  • Communications launch: Oct. 1
  • Six-month update to the community: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at The Commons.
  • Goal to implement all solutions: April 2019

Early proposals

Seven basic proposals from the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP) were outlined Aug. 15 for the Bartholomew County Council.

  • Convert an unused 120-bed portion of the Bartholomew County Jail into a drug treatment center for inmates.
  • Inpatient treatment centers.
  • Creating a detoxification facility at Columbus Regional Hospital.
  • Establishing a drug court headed by Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin.
  • Secure housing for former inmates after they are released from jail.
  • Arrange transportation for people to obtain treatment.
  • Seek donations to fund scholarships to train individuals for jobs created by implemented proposals.

ASAP executive lead Jeff Jones said these proposals are still being reviewed and refined.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.