More work is ahead this year to tackle the area’s opioid epidemic across Bartholomew County, an initiative launched in 2017.

The crisis in the county is similar to what many counties in Indiana and across the nation are facing, said Jeff Jones, executive lead for the Alliance for Substance Progress initiative, who spoke during Mayor Jim Lienhoop’s State of the City address. The initiative is overseen by Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop and Jim Bickel, president and CEO of Columbus Regional Health.

The organizational structure of ASAP has action teams focused on prevention, intervention, and treatment and recovery from opiate addictions.

“Too many continue to overdose and too many people continue to die,” Jones said. “Too many families are torn apart. Crime is up, law enforcement and our courts are overwhelmed and the jail is overcrowded. The entire community is suffering.”

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However, Jones told nearly 300 people in attendance that help is on the way to tackle the problem and that progress will depend upon the entire community.

Jones said that the Indiana State Medical Association and other organizations have released revised opioid-prescribing recommendations. A prescribing-practices team led by Dr. Kevin Terrell of Columbus Regional Health is working with local physicians to identify best practices for the local implementation, Jones said. Another focus is to collect data to ensure that providers are prescribing opioid pain medication in the most appropriate manner, Jones said.

Additionally, a grant has been submitted to the Indiana Housing and Community Development Association to fund a local housing assistance program, Jones said. If awarded, it would be used to cover direct housing costs for individuals who have recently completed in-patient treatment programs, he said.

Officials expect to hear whether they are awarded the grant by the end of the month, Jones said.

A court system team overseen by Bartholomew County Circuit Judge Kelly Benjamin also is exploring the implementation of an adult drug court, Jones said.

Lienhoop pointed to the growing problem of opioids in Barthlomew County during his speech as well.

“We’re in the midst of an opioid epidemic that’s destroyed lives, families and our economic base,” Lienhoop said. “And again, to say this is a large problem is an understatement.”

Lienhoop added that he expects other organizations to join the ASAP initiative. The city passed an ordinance this week creating a board that will assist with funding requests meant to tackle the area’s opioid crisis, and similar moves will be required by the Bartholomew County Commissioners and Columbus Regional Health trustees, the mayor said.

The funding board also will make budgetary recommendations to Columbus City Council and the Bartholomew County Council on how money should be spent.

Jones said that donations to the Mark and Wendy Elwood Substance Abuse Prevention Fund, overseen by the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, have exceeded $466,000. The couple agreed to match dollar-for-dollar donations made through March 31 up to $500,000, bringing the overall total to $932,000, Jones said.

The Elwood fund drive’s final results will be reported during a one-year ASAP progress report April 25 at The Commons.

Jones said he is optimistic about what’s ahead in tackling the area’s opioid problem.

“I’m confident we will move forward to get the job done,” Jones said. “To win this battle, collaboration is needed. This is a community problem, and it does affect everyone.”

What's next

A one-year progress report on the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress initiative is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 25 at The Commons, 300 Washington St.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or