Editorial: Is 2023 the year we stop setting fatal overdose records?

Thirty-nine people died of a drug overdose in Bartholomew County in 2022, a record number. More than 100 people have died from overdoses since the year 2020, also a record for a three-year span.

Fentanyl is killing people in record numbers here and nationwide. At the same time, as The Republic reported recently, record numbers of people also are turning to local treatment providers to seek help in recovering from addiction.

The willingness of people to come to terms with their need for help is a hopeful sign, and we should eradicate any stigma that might prevent someone from doing so. As one local doctor said bluntly, those seeking treatment “don’t want to die,” because many of them know others whose addictions proved fatal.

It’s positive news that record numbers are seeking treatment. By itself, this development suggests that in the year ahead, the number of local people dying from drug overdoses may stop rising, at long last. Yet this new year is bringing other hopeful developments that also could slow the spiraling number of overdose deaths.

First, Bartholomew County and its cities will have new sources of funding to provide treatment this year and in years to come, thanks to settlements in opioid litigation. The county will get $3 million divided in annual installments through 2038 as part of one settlement, most of which will directly fund treatment.

Second, the county has formed an investigative team that will review all local overdose deaths and suicides with a goal of finding opportunities to intervene and save lives. The Bartholomew County Suicide and Overdose Fatality Review (SOFR) Team met for the first time in November. It includes representatives from the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, Columbus Regional Health, the Bartholomew County Coroner’s Office, Sheriff’s Department, Council for Youth Development Bartholomew County, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., Centerstone and other organizations.

Third, under federal law enacted last month as part of the omnibus spending bill, doctors with a license to prescribe controlled substances now may prescribe medications such as buprenorphine to treat addiction disorder without having to go through a burdensome federal waiver process. The Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act had wide bipartisan support due in part to advocacy from groups such as Hoosier Action. Lawmakers were persuaded this small change would save lives.

Finally, while a record number of people nationwide died from drug overdoses in 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that the rate of increase was slowing last year.

Getting more people into treatment and attacking the supply of deadly fentanyl are among strategies from Main Street to the White House that are aimed at helping people beat addiction.

One area in which we should be able to find common ground must be helping those in our community who are suffering from addiction, which knows no political, social or economic boundaries. The solutions require time, energy, resources, dedication, compassion and commitment.

But saving lives is worth it.

Let us resolve to do all we can to ensure we don’t set another grim record of overdose deaths in 2023.