Bartholomew County jail seeks to expand drug treatment program as overdose deaths increase

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BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind. – Officials in charge of Bartholomew County’s jail-based drug addiction treatment program are seeking to expand their resources as the county is seeing double the number of deadly overdoses in the first half of this year.

The addiction treatment program works to help inmates in the jail get away from drugs and provides support to keep the inmates on a positive path after they are released.

“Housing, sober friends, employment, and just the stability of having health care and community resources,” said program coordinator, Theresa Patton.

Right now, the program can handle 12 men and 12 women at a time. Patton says the need is greater than that.

“I get stacks of requests to join the program,” Patton said.

Patton and Jail Commander, Chief Deputy Sheriff Major Chris Lane, are asking county and city budget writers to approve a funding increase that would more than double the program’s nearly $115,000 budget. They’re asking for an additional $144,000 to hire more counselors and coaches. The increased staff could eventually expand the program to include 30 men and 21 women.

The budget request comes as the Bartholomew County Coroner reports 20 overdose deaths in the first six months of this year. The county saw 9 overdose deaths in the first half of 2019.

Other counties are also seeing more deadly overdoes in 2020. The Marion County Coroner’s office reports a 40-percent increase in the first half of this year. The Johnson County Coroner estimates a 30-percent increase compared to the first half of 2019.

Investigators in different counties say they are seeing consistent drug activity involving various, potent mixtures of fentanyl. In some cases, overdose victims have been found with pure fentanyl in their system.

Patton and Lane believe the COVID-19 pandemic is at least partially to blame for an increase in drug activity in the first part of this year.

“I think people are anxious, people are stressed, people are depressed,” Patton said. “People who already have stress, anxiety, depression tend to be quick to utilize drug, alcohol, quick fixes.”

“Once you struggle with addiction, you always struggle with that addiction,” Major Lane said. “And then when you hit that bump in the road, then you regress back.”

Patton also points out that several facilities that provide temporary shelter for those waiting to be placed in sober housing were forced to close during part of the pandemic.

“Brighter Days and some similar shelters from here to Indy completely closed down, for obvious reasons,” she said. “They go and they pick up with friends who say ‘you can crash on my couch.’ But you know, this is a trap house. This is where we do it.”

Patton hopes the situation will improve as more shelters resume their services.

Budget reviews are already underway in Bartholomew County. A public hearing and reading of the 2021 budget is scheduled for September 8. County officials are scheduled to vote on the budget October 13.

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