“Drugs are killing us”
The bold headline at the top of Sunday’s front page had both a literal and figurative meaning.
Drugs — opioids specifically — have taken the lives of too many people in Bloomington and surrounding communities. Some fall to their own destructive habits — 21 deaths were attributed to an overdose of opioids in 2015 in Monroe and adjacent counties.
Brittany Sater won’t show up as an overdose statistic when the 2016 numbers are put together, but she was killed by a powerful opiate just as certainly — a heroin user, turned drug dealer, turned murder victim — when she was shot to death during a robbery of cash and drugs at her apartment in August of last year.
That’s the literal meaning of the headline, each death a human tragedy that cannot be undone.
Figuratively, drugs are killing our communities by sapping them of resources and resolve that otherwise could be put to work on any number of important issues — joblessness, affordable housing, food security, child welfare, sustainability. Think how much energy has been expended by public agencies just this summer in Bloomington, alone, responding to drug overdoses and other illegal behavior in city parks or other public places. Police officers, ambulance personnel, emergency room doctors and nurses, social service workers — all of them focused on keeping a tiny segment of our community from hurting themselves or others.
Nationally, in 2015, slightly less than 10 percent of all Americans with a substance disorder involved misuse of prescription pain relievers, and less than 3 percent had a substance disorder involving heroin, according to statistics of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Yet, that small fraction of overall substance abusers accounted for 63 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2015 — nearly 34,000 deaths nationwide from prescription pain killers or heroin.
Couple overdose numbers with rising rates of hepatitis C infections and HIV/ AIDS cases attributed to injection drug use, and the enormity of the public health problem becomes clear. It’s no wonder that what was unthinkable a few years ago in conservative Indiana — needle exchanges for intravenous drug users — is one of the strategies being employed to stem this rising tide.
And it will get worse before it gets better.
That’s what the experts tell us, and it’s enough to make us throw up our hands.
Sunday’s stories looked at the situation in neighboring counties and how officials there are responding. In Morgan County, there is an emphasis on stopping the influx of drugs coming into the county. In Lawrence County, the start of a needle exchange program has gotten a mixed reception. Martin County still is fighting the methamphetamine war; heroin hasn’t made a significant appearance there, but law enforcement has its hands full, nonetheless.
Nowhere is there an answer, just things being tried because doing nothing is not an option.
It is a tough problem. There is the public health aspect. There is a crime aspect. There is a human aspect as varied as the reasons individuals turn to drugs to dull whatever ache they are feeling. Homelessness and joblessness may not be root causes, but certainly may be consequences, more layers on the onion of addiction to peel away and examine.
Monroe County officials have proposed a multicounty summit on opioid and prescription drug misuse for the end of September. It’s going to take a regional approach, much like agencies dealing with homelessness in the region came together a couple of years ago to agree on steps to address homelessness in the sixcounty region around Bloomington.
Penny Caudill, administrator for the Monroe County Health Department, said creative solutions and a sustained effort are going to needed to turn the corner on our opioid drug problem.
Make no mistake: Lives depend upon it.