Madison County summit focuses on need for additional drug prevention

MADISON COUNTY, Ind. – With the unemployment rate in the Anderson area hovering at around four percent, Madison County businesses would like to hire more workers and expand, if only they could find qualified and clean applicants.

“But one of the things that we see with the drug testing…those that are not passing and how much of our unemployed workforce is not passing…I would say about a third from the small interview samples that I’ve done that we hear from our large employers that can’t pass the drug test,” said Dennis Ashley, Madison County Chamber of Commerce President & CEO. “Many employers are finding it hard to fill these open spaces up because as our unemployment drives down, this is a concern of ours.”

The Chamber, along with Intersect, a healthy living clearinghouse, co-sponsored the two-day Madison County Drug Prevention Summit to convince the business community it has a role to play in tackling the area’s addiction dilemma.

“It’s the business community that needs to come together to help our local units of government make decisions on how to fight this,” said Ashley.

“When you have an addict in your family it affects everyone,” said Karesa Knight-Wilkerson, Executive Director of Intersect, Inc. “One of those risk factors is family conflict. For the last six years we’ve ranked over fifty percent in eighth grade in aggregate data for family conflict.

“They don’t interact like we know they used to do. They don’t know how to sit down and have dinner together or pass the salt so family skills have gone out the window and so when there’s no communication and everything is social media now that results in drug use.”

Recently, county councilors decided to scrap funding for a needle exchange program in Madison County after discarded syringes turned up in public places.

Sheriff Scott Mellinger said the councilors were wrong.

“It was never meant to decrease drug use,” said Mellinger who finds 80% of the offenders in his overcrowded jail face drug related charges. “Our cases of Hepatitis C and possibly HIV will increase as the number of people incarcerated, or in our jail for those cases, I think those numbers are going to increase.”

Last week, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a letter it sent asking state health officials to more accurately interpret drug usage statistics among needle exchange users.

Mellinger said the Madison County program could have succeeded with more support systems.

“There weren’t enough resources and enough planning for proper treatment and prevention pieces along with the syringe exchange and I think that’s where the program has failed if anywhere.

“When it comes to a county like Madison County I would see we are embarrassingly underserved when it comes to dealing with mental illnesses and addictions so the county will end up picking up our medical bills for those people while they are in our jail.”

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