Advocates say more should be done to prevent drug overdoses as the number of deaths climb across the state.
States in more than half of the nation, including Indiana, have seen a “statistically significant” rise in overdose deaths in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deaths climbed 23 percent to 1,526 in 2016, the CDC reports.
The increase comes despite efforts to distribute more overdose-reversing drugs to the public and better track opioid prescriptions written in doctor’s offices and emergency rooms.
In Montgomery County, where drug overdose deaths tripled from 2016-2017, the health department provides free naloxone kits and training for the public. The medicine, known by the brand name Narcan, keeps an overdose patient breathing until emergency crews arrive.
More than 300 kits have been distributed since they became available last fall, health department administrator Amber Reed said.
Officials can track Narcan use through the Naloxone Administration Heatmap, which the state unveiled last week. The map updates each time the drug has been administered by emergency responders.
At least nine local cases have been reported over the past month, mostly in Crawfordsville. Exact locations are not pinpointed for privacy reasons. Emergency crews have applied the drug 16 times in the Crawfordsville area since last August.
Recent steps have also been taken to crack down on opioid prescription abuse. Under a new state law, all prescribers of controlled substances must check the patient’s history on a statewide database before filling a new order. A seven-day limit is placed on opioid prescriptions for new patients and children under 18.
Advocates praise those measures and other local efforts to help addicts stay in recovery, but say there needs to be more awareness about overdoses.
“The only way this is going to get better is to talk about it,” said Sally Evans Molin, whose 23-year-old son, Michael, died from an overdose in October.
Trinity Life Ministries wants to jump start the local conversation.
The faith-based addictions program for men will hold a public ceremony from noon to 12:30 p.m. Friday at Marie Canine Plaza to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. A survivor of an overdose victim will speak and a moment of silence is being held.
Executive director Joe Radzikowski said drug offenders, especially those just completing jail sentences, lack resources for staying clean.
“What we really need is for people to meet these men and women at the door when they get out jail,” he said.
Last year, Montgomery and five other Indiana counties received federal funds to start a Rapid Response Pilot Project. The team includes representatives from the health and fire departments, Community Paramedicine Program, law enforcement, school nurses, coroner’s office, universities and hospitals.
A full-time community paramedic will soon begin following up with patients within one to two days of an overdose and can help connect them to local recovery programs and services. Resources will also be listed on a website that is expected to launch this fall.
“You can thumb through the phone book and try to look for stuff, make phone calls, but this is just quick access for anybody,” said Paul Miller, who oversees the paramedicine program.
Another grant will allow the health department to hire a certified recovery specialist coordinator.
Reed said there’s still more work to be done to educate the public about the impact of drugs and remove the stigma surrounding overdose deaths.
“It’s hard to share that information and reach out for fear of being judged... but I think you’ll find there’s a shift in that at this point,” she said.
“Almost everyone’s been touched by it,” Miller added.