Annual Addiction Awareness Events in Southern Indiana Follow Rise in Overdose Deaths – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville
In 2021, Clark County saw its biggest spike in drug overdose deaths in five years — which a health official says is due to changes in the illicit drug market.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said at least three-quarters of the 73 overdose deaths recorded last year involved the powerful opioid fentanyl, and many involved methamphetamine as well.
That’s a big change from the mostly heroin-related deaths seen in recent years, which Yazel attributed to a shift in drug supply.
“The ability of these chemistry labs to synthesize these compounds is the big game changer,” he said. “They don’t depend on large volumes of product, there are no crops to worry about. Their only limit is how much chemicals they can get.”
That shift will be a big focus of this year’s Drug Facts Week, hosted by grassroots organization Clark County CARES.
Monday through Thursday, in-person and livestreamed discussions will be held on the current state of drug abuse in Clark County, the social and economic impact and paths to recovery.
Sam Quinones, author of the books Dreamland, which focused on the rise of opioids, and The Least of Us, the transition to meth and fentanyl and the aftermath, will be the keynote speaker. A candlelight vigil will be held Sunday evening at the base of the Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville for those suffering from or lost to addiction.
Yazel said he thinks this year’s event will be one of the most important they’ve ever had, along with that at the start of the opioid crisis, which helped jumpstart new recovery initiatives.
“Well, I think we’re talking about completely different topics,” he said of this year’s discussions. “Fentanyl and methamphetamine supply, we’re talking about social issues of COVID-19, just a lot of different things.”
Clark County CARES was established in 2015 following the outbreak of the injecting drug-related HIV outbreak in neighboring Scott County and the spread of opioids to Clark County. Founded by community members affected by addiction, it now includes healthcare providers, law enforcement and those in recovery.
Member Carolyn King said the group has helped raise awareness and implement program changes that have reduced overdoses in recent years.
The loneliness and isolation caused by the pandemic may have been a reason for the spike in drug use, she said.
“But I think the introduction of fentanyl [and meth]…it’s easily accessible, it’s cheap, and it’s a contributing factor to overdoses right now,” she said.
Yazel said current trends might be harder to address since there aren’t as many evidence-based treatments for meth and so much of it is cut with fentanyl.
“I’m really worried,” he said. “You have a drug that nobody has had much success with, combined with fentanyl, which is essentially the most dangerous substance we’ve ever seen – in terms of abuse. It’s just a deadly combination that’s really worrying.”
When asked if this phase of the addiction crisis was worse than the region’s onset of opioids around 2015, King said the overall problem was bigger.
“We need to figure out how to stop people from using alternative substances in the first place,” she said, adding that alcohol kills many more people than drugs, just more slowly.
King said those who work on overdoses need to examine why people feel a lack of connection or desperation that drives them to abuse drugs.
“I think until we really break that down and find the root cause, it’s going to continue to be a problem,” she said.