We’re increasingly addicted and dying, and the signs are everywhere — in every community and across every income and background.

Syringes are littering some of the parks where your kids may play. Petty thefts have been on the rise in homes, perhaps in your neighborhood.

Ambulances are rushing down the street to assist another overdose victim, where medics meet up with local police officers who are already administering multiple doses of an antidote that can revive people overdosing on drugs who are barely breathing.

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The local hospital is setting up a makeshift area for the babies who are born with addictions, working on a new specialized nursery being designed to detox the youngest drug victims after birth.

These are some of the effects that are results of grim numbers:

  • 52,404 lethal drug overdoses were reported nationally in 2015.
  • Opioid addiction is driving the epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths nationally related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.
  • 500 reports of possible overdoses during 2016 in Bartholomew County, a number that topped 700 in 2017.
  • 12 fatal drug overdoses in Bartholomew County in 2016, up from 6 the previous year; and 30 fatal overdoses in 2017, representing a 150 percent increase from 2016.

Across the nation, more people are dying from drug overdoses than the number who succumb to breast and prostate cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute.

Tormented families are desperately trying to get help for sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. In many cases, they plan funerals instead.

Most of Bartholomew County’s overdose deaths last year involved multiple substances rather than just one, Bartholomew County Deputy Coroner Jay Frederick said.

Local investigators conclude that people who are using opioids, or combinations of drugs, don’t realize what they are putting in their bodies or how lethal some of the combinations are, Frederick said.

“They’re playing Russian Roulette,” Frederick said. “They have no idea what they’re buying, and there’s a good chance the person selling it doesn’t know what they’re selling. In the end they have no idea what they’re putting into their own body.”

The Columbus Police Department administered naloxone, an opioid antidote, to 78 individuals in 2017. The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department administered the antidote 35 times.

The county coroner’s office estimates that the number of Bartholomew County overdose deaths could have easily quadrupled without the ready access of naloxone, which is now carried by city and county police officers, ambulance personnel and firefighter/paramedics.

Right now, treatment is often out of reach for people struggling with addiction — either financially or geographically.

Facilities are often out of state, and bills remain high even with insurance.

The Columbus area and cities and counties nationwide are tasked with considering a range of options, but few have yet been implemented while first responders are being called to more and more overdoses.

For a growing number of drug users, their addiction lands them in jail.

Bartholomew County officials estimate as many as 90 percent of the criminal cases they see are related to drugs in some way. That has led to an overcrowding problem at the county jail.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.

So the question is: What now?

For families struggling, local officials agonizing, the economy suffering and the emergency workers rushing to help, that fix can’t come soon enough.

Nationwide impact opioids



What: Outpatient or partial hospitalization mental health facility

Address: 720 N. Marr Road, Columbus

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, Columbus; two specialized groups for men and women, child care available

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

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

11 a.m. Fridays, Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St., Columbus; 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., Columbus

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;participants 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


To learn more about efforts to fight the opioid crisis in Bartholomew County, visit the website for the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County at asapbc.org/.



The United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in history.

With alarming frequency, opioids — including prescription drugs, heroin and fentanyl — are killing Americans, including an increasing number in Bartholomew County.

The Republic is taking a yearlong look into the public health crisis that touches nearly every segment of our community and that crosses all socioeconomic lines.

Addicted & Dying will tell the harrowing stories of people with drug addictions and families who have lost loved ones.

We will talk to doctors, addiction specialists, law enforcement officers and others on the front lines battling a problem that is ruining lives and putting mounting pressures on social service agencies, hospitals, the judicial system and the economy.

Beyond that, Addicted & Dying will explore solutions and a path forward — what treatments and approaches work, what communities can do and how to help people in need.

The project starts today with an overview of the crises and an analysis of 2017 overdose death statistics.


The idea of her having a drug problem didn’t occur to Erika Hurt of Hope until she afterward saw a photo of herself, passed out in her car with a syringe hanging off her left hand and her toddler in the back seat.


Rachel McCue got caught up in drugs as a Columbus East freshman. A mother at age 20, the depth of her addiction wasn’t evident to her until three months after she moved in with her drug dealer boyfriend and suffered the loss of her 19-month-old son to abuse in the home.


Contact us as editorial@therepublic.com or call 812-379-5665.

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