Substance abuse is expected to be a major problem in Bartholomew County for decades to come. And by all measures, the crisis is worsening.

That was the conclusion expressed Tuesday by the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County after six months of extensive research.

Both before and during Tuesday’s alliance forum at the Commons, startling statistics have emerged that include:

More than 1,000 Bartholomew County residents have an opioid addiction, according to estimates.

A monthly average of nearly 70 overdoses have been reported this year.

17 of the 23 overdose deaths reported so far this year have been opioid-based, Bartholomew County coroner Clayton Nolting said.

An alarming and increasing number of babies are being born locally with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Strains on resources available to both the health care and criminal justice systems have become commonplace.

Those are just a few reasons why a massive community-wide effort over the next two years was launched, organizers of Tuesday’s forum said.

Paying for programs

While total costs will undoubtedly escalate into millions of dollars, the money will come from a variety of sources that including federal and state funds, community partners, individual donors, local taxpayers, faith-based organizations and investments by substance abuse service providers, ASAP Executive Lead Jeff Jones said.

More specific costs will become more clear in upcoming months as a variety of organizations solidify their plans and launch individual projects, Jones said.

Initiatives outlined Tuesday have already received a substantial financial kick-start by Mark and Wendy Elwood.

The Columbus couple have committed up to $500,000 to establish the Mark and Wendy Elwood Substance Abuse Prevention Fund, which will be administered through the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

The Elwoods have agreed to match dollar-for-dollar all contributions made to the fund between now and the end of next March in order to raise $1 million, Jones said.

Depending on the specific project, funding sources will vary, Jones said.

For example, while county taxpayers will fund efforts to ease overcrowding issues at the Bartholomew County Jail, the proposed drug treatment program for inmates will be supported through a state-funded program called Recovery Works, alliance officials said.

Partnering efforts

Partnering organizations will work to ensure that certified providers will be hired and trained to deliver evidence-based substance abuse treatment at the jail, Jones said.

However, other partnering groups are necessary to ensure that jail inmates will be able to leave the correctional system with knowledge, resources and skills to enable continued recovery and reduce recidivism, he said.

Other treatment centers that are expected to be announced in the upcoming months will most likely be funded by a combination of sources, including state funding and donations, Jones said.

The alliance is asking that a broad range of effective program options be created to meet diverse interests offered at convenient times and locations.

The extensive support system proposed by the alliance is composed of 10 critical elements. They include creating or expanding recovery programs, establishing a county health system, offering both inpatient and outpatient treatments, emphasizing prevention and communications, modifying prescribing practices, and making changes to the criminal justice system.

“Cultivating the support system will save lives, reduce recidivism, promote public safety, positively impact the health of our citizens and ultimately improve the overall quality of life,” Jones said.

Two elements — inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment — are expected to include medication-assisted treatment options for teens and adults.

While much of the system being advocated is already in place, the organization plans to help enhance and expand services available through existing regional treatment partners that include:

  • Adult and Child Health
  • Centerstone Behavioral Health
  • Columbus Physicians Associates
  • Community Downtown
  • Fairbanks
  • St. Peter’s LifeWorks
  • Tara Treatment Center
  • Valle Vista

Both medical and mental health providers must collaborate effectively and efficiently to ensure timely and adequate access to appropriate, high-quality services, Jones said.

The element of creating a county health system refers to forging an expanded and coordinated system that places a greater emphasis on prevention and recovery, alliance officials said.

Key partners will be Columbus Regional Health, Centerstone and the Windrose Health Network, as well as both state and national addiction treatment centers, Jones said.

Another key element is to create and provide drug-free, safe and supportive environments for individuals and families to live while in recovery from addiction.

Such an initiative was announced during the summer when three groups unveiled plans to open Columbus’ first permanent supportive housing complex within a few years at 1703 Home Ave.

While Victory Apartments will be a regional facility targeting homeless individuals with a substance abuse or mental health disorder, organizers from Thrive Alliance, Centerstone Behavioral Health and the City of Columbus admit the project is big not enough to meet the current need.

In recent weeks, alliance officials have emphasized the importance of another element, prevention and communications. The alliance’s goal is to equip an activated community with an elevated understanding of addiction and support, Jones said.

The organization is asking that prevention education, which includes the knowledge of pathways and dangers of addiction, be implemented through schools, employers and faith-based organizations.

The element of modifying prescribing practices will require the cooperation of the medical community. What the alliance is calling for is the widespread and consistent adoption of state and federal guidelines for prescribing opioid.

A related initiative calls for a multidisciplinary team capable of providing timely access to pain specialists and chronic pain therapy.

Over the past few weeks, the alliance has let it be known that it advocates establishing a drug court that would be presided over by Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin.

Qualified defendants would be provided with intensive treatment and other services in drug court. But in exchange, they would be subject to strict requirements such as random drug tests and frequent court appearances for more than a year.

Problem-solving drug courts are needed because they are capable of addressing the intersection of social, human and legal problems that regular courts cannot address, Jones said.

The alliance is also calling for continued cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to decrease the supply and dealing of illegal drugs.

The final element is the creation of a central hub that would oversee the efforts of all the others.

Jones described the hub as “a physical place staffed with trained and compassionate volunteers who help individuals and families navigate recovery options and connect with appropriate community organizations.”

The three major sponsors of the alliance are Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Columbus Regional Health CEO Jim Bickel and Bartholomew County Commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop.

Coming Thursday

See Thursday’s Republic to learn what local residents had to say during the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress program Tuesday night at The Commons.

How to contribute to ASAP fundraising

The Mark and Wendy Elwood Substance Abuse Prevention Fund has been established through the Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation for Bartholomew County to provide financial support for educational programs that would prevent substance abuse among children and young adults.

The Columbus couple is offering to match community donations dollar for dollar up to $500,000. If met, the initiative would raise $1 million for the cause. Matching funds will cover donations made through March 31.

Donations can be made to Heritage Fund via check send to 538 Franklin Street, Columbus, IN 47201 or online at Type “Mark & Wendy Elwood Substance Abuse Prevention Fund” in the “name” field.

For more information, contact the Heritage Fund at 812-376-7772.

Opiates and opioids

Opiates are derived from the poppy plant. Examples of opiates include heroin, morphine and thebaine. Examples of opioids are perscription pain medications Vicodin, Percoset and Oxycontin.

— Provided by Healthy Communities, Columbus Regional Health

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5636.