Local leaders across government, healthcare and criminal justice have been meeting to develop a community-wide response to the prevalence of drug addiction and overdoses.
Communities across Indiana and the U.S. have seen a dramatic rise in the number of fatal and nonfatal overdoses linked to heroin and prescription opioid use, but the response in individual communities has been varied. In Wabash, dozens of programs for drug users and the formerly incarcerated are already in place, but several leaders say they would like to meet more regularly to see what gaps in treatment exist.
“What we’re trying to do is push a community-wide effort,” Mayor Scott Long said. “That includes government and healthcare ... If we want to tackles this, everybody has to have skin in the game.”
Long is one of about a dozen or so local leaders who formed a steering committee that will examine the community’s response to drug and alcohol addiction.
The committee will study four main topics: Prevention, intervention, enforcement and the “second chance option,” or services provided to the formerly incarcerated to improve their chances of success, according to Marilyn Custer-Mitchell, Parkview Wabash Hospital president and the committee’s main organizer.
“We’re in our infancy, but we’re trying to get a handle on what’s going on here,” Custer-Mitchell said. “There are a lot of programs already in effect (here)... this committee wants to look at that and determine what isn’t going on.”
On prevention, Custer-Mitchell said the committee will look for better ways to educate the community on the dangers of addiction. She said that the committee will also look at what treatment services are currently available in the region and what barriers may be preventing individuals from seeking help when they need it.
On the “second chance option,” Custer-Mitchell said the committee will talk about how to help the formerly incarcerated find housing and employment so they can have a second shot a life without drugs or alcohol abuse.
State leaders are taking a community-based approach to the issue as well, with Sen. Andy Zay recently organizing a drug summit in the district to seek input on how the state can better help communities expand treatment access and fight addiction generally.
Long said he believes the line of communication between the state and local communities will help clear the way for better solutions, and he credited Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration with taking a more holistic approach to the issue than simply making more arrests.
“We’re trying to attack it from all fronts,” Long said. “We’ve still got our law enforcement out there making arrests. When I campaigned, I got laughed at because I said there’s no way we’re going to arrest our way out of this problem.
“That’s (now) being echoed from our governor on down. People are finally understanding that we can’t arrest our way out of it, and if we try to do that we’re just overwhelming our criminal justice system when there may be alternatives that we can offer these people.”
Long said that while he would like to see a treatment center in Wabash, a lot of “red tape” exists that makes it a difficult goal to accomplish. He pointed to local groups that help drug users find treatment as one alternative until a better option becomes available.
“If we can get one or two addicted people from our community into treatment, and they come back, that’s a culture change,” he said.