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Drug battle sees some wins

BY Spencer Durham - sdurham@chronicle-tribune.com

Grant County is making strides in combating the growing heroin and substance abuse epidemic, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

That was the overarching theme at Friday’s Grant County Substance Abuse Task Force meeting at Marion General Hospital. Well over 60 community members from various organizations were present to give insight on what has worked in the effort to end the opioid crisis, what hasn’t and what still needs to be done.

On Marion General Hospital data alone, the number of overdoses has steadily risen since 2013. In 2017, the hospital diagnosed 69 overdoses, up from 51 in 2016. Ann Vermilion, administrative director of medical staff services and community outreach for the hospital, said that number could be even higher, as it does not factor in statistics from the state or coroner’s office.

“If you look at our heroin numbers, they’re not good,” Vermilion said.

Per 100,000 people, Grant County has the highest number of drug poisoning deaths, around 30, among all adjacent counties, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

However, MGH has made a concerted effort to decrease the number of opioid prescriptions and the number of pills prescribed to each patient. The percentage of patients prescribed opioids in the fourth quarter of 2017 was at 8.6 percent. The same time in 2016 over 10 percent of patients received an opioid prescription. Before prescribing guidelines were instituted in 2014, the rate over 20 percent.

Detective Sergeant Josh Zigler, of the Joint Effort Against Narcotics Team, said they’ve seen a spike in crack-cocaine and an increase in stimulants such as methamphetamine. Large drug busts at the end of the 2017, such as the one that saw the arrest of 23 individuals in November, have hurt the supply of heroin, which may contribute to the increase in use of other drugs. Zigler said they’ve also seen people swapping heroin for methamphetamine.

“We’re seeing the same things as Josh is seeing in terms of substitution methamphetamine for heroin,” said Mark Spitzer, circuit court judge.

Spitzer said he’s also seen a slight drop in heroin as the drug of choice in drug court cases. The judge said more are turning to methamphetamines as they are less likely to die from them. Zigler said some try to ween themselves off of heroin using stimulants.

The administering of Narcan, a brand name of naloxone, a medication that counteracts the effects of opioids, fell from the first quarter to the last quarter of 2017, according to MGH statistics. Hospital officials say that it often takes two doses, one nasal, another through an IV. One MGH official said they felt that there had been an uptick in Narcan use the past couple of weeks.

Though it’s still an uphill battle, the efforts in Grant County have not been lost on those within the community as well as those in neighboring counties. Drug courts in the county have delivered multiple success stories. At least one recovering addict was in attendance Friday. Spitzer said Miami and Huntington counties have implemented their own drug courts which mirror Grant’s.

Mikayla Marazzi, of the Grant County Economic Growth Council, said the number of resources available to addicts in Grant County isn’t something that other counties necessarily have. For example, the Growth Council works with Project Leadership to introduce students to career pathways earlier on in their academic careers. Others noted positives such as the reduced prescription rates and recovery groups at the jail.

“Our community is actually coming together and trying to make a difference,” Zigler said.

Zigler said the JEAN Team will be working with Indiana State Police’s Drug Enforcement Group to bring in even more resources from across the state.

Those in attendance also gave suggestions as to what more can be done. This included more sober living facilities, especially for women, secular recovery options, a plan to better prevent repeat overdoses and getting pregnant mothers pre-natal care sooner.

According to MGH statistics, the number of children born with Neonatal abstinence syndrome, a series of problems that occur in newborns exposed to opiates in the womb, is about 40 in 1,000. That is a significant increase, according to MGH officials.

Zigler said more programs and support for families of addicts is also needed. Law enforcement is not the support group for an addict, their family is, Zigler explained. Finding better ways to support and reach those families will go a long way, he said.

The Substance Abuse Task Force will be developing subcommittees in the coming weeks and months to address more specific problems within the drug epidemic.