Indiana drug czar says increase in overdoses has not reached its peak

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s drug czar says the rise in overdoses since the pandemic began has not reached its peak.

According to Douglas Huntsinger, Indiana’s executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement, overdoses are up about 20% compared to this point last year. This comes after the state saw a 33% spike in overdose deaths in 2020 compared to the previous year, he added.

Recovery groups are seeing evidence of the ongoing surge.

“When you go through this, you think you’re the only one, but you’re not,” said Diane Buxton, regional coordinator for Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL).

Buxton said she started a local chapter for the support group PAL after her son started recovery. Attendance at local PAL meetings is up about 20% since the pandemic started, she said.

“It’s good, and it’s bad,” Buxton said. “I hate to see people suffer because I understand.”

The Willow Center in Brownsburg, which offers treatment and counseling, has seen a similar increase in demand.

“Compared to this time last year, we were averaging about 350, 375 clients per month,” said Chase Cotten, community director. “And right now, we’re averaging 450 to 475 per month.”

One of the root causes, he said, is “a lot of the stress is lingering from the pandemic. And this surge is not going to help that, I’m afraid.”

State officials are pursuing several paths to try to turn things around. That includes ramping up the purchase and distribution of naloxone, Huntsinger said.

Indiana recently announced the allocation of $1.3 million from a federally-funded grant for another 35,000 doses of the life-saving reversal drug, along with 215 NaloxBox units.

“Our first goal is really to keep people alive,” Huntsinger said. “And then we’ve put a number of programs in place.”

See our entire interview with Huntsinger below.

Those programs include the creation of 18 recovery hubs during the pandemic to help Hoosiers struggling with addiction access treatment and employment, Huntsinger explained.

In addition, $100 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan is going toward mental health and addiction causes, Huntsinger said. That can help expand these types of services as well as enforcement action to stop the illegal sale and transit of drugs, he added.

“Our mobile teams are going to be incredibly important moving forward,” he said. “And then also ensuring that the conversations we’re having with our local units of government, that we’re meeting their needs.”

Hoosiers can call 211 to be connected to support services or find a regional recovery hub in their area.

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