On June 30, Alexandria police stopped Nico Vasquez for speeding. At the scene, the 25-year-old Gas City man lapsed into a stupor and was transported to Community Hospital Anderson. The efforts of emergency and medical personnel couldn't save him.
A blood sample taken at the hospital indicated Vasquez had ingested illegal drugs, authorities said. An empty plastic bag, reportedly, was found in his stomach.
As sad as this story is, it was just one chapter that weekend in Madison County's battle with drug addiction. Madison County Coroner Marian Dunnichay believes four other people died of drug overdoses. She's awaiting toxicology reports.
Madison County has seen a sharp rise in drug overdose deaths, from 23 in 2013 to 46 last year. If the weekend of June 30 is any indication, it's only getting worse.
Local problems are echoed in misery across the state. In 2015, the last year for statistics on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, Indiana had the 17th-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country, at 19.5 per 100,000 people.
West Virginia (41.5) had the highest rate; Nebraska (6.9) had the lowest. Indiana neighbor states Kentucky and Ohio (both at 29.9) tied for the third-highest rate nationally.
According to the CDC, opioid (including heroin) overdose deaths quadrupled from 1999 to 2015, killing more than 33,000 people in the United States in 2015 alone.
Here in Indiana, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association reported that opioid use disorder diagnoses increased by nearly 500 percent among BCBSA members during a seven-year period.
The numbers are sobering, but it's hard to comprehend the human impact unless you come face to face with an overdose victim. Thousands more in our country are in danger of suffering Nico Vasquez's fate.
Wednesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced an expansion of opioid addiction treatment programs in Indiana, with new services to be offered in Allen, Johnson, Tippecanoe and Vigo counties. Also, beginning Aug. 1, the state will allow the use of Medicaid for methadone treatments.
While methadone poses addiction dangers of its own, these are significant steps in the right direction. But much, much more must be done to address the opioid addiction and overdose epidemic in Indiana.
We look forward to hearing from the governor about additional statewide measures soon.