JEFFERSONVILLE — The sixth annual Clark County CARES Drug Facts Week starts Monday, a series of events meant to help provide resources and education to people affected by addiction and to connect groups and individuals to help find solutions.
Like so many other events this year, Drug Facts Week will have some adaptations because of COVID-19. With the exception of the outdoor candlelight vigil at the end of the week, all events will be streamed only. But organizers say that as people have become more accustomed to virtual meetings and presentations throughout the year, this could reach more attendees.
And, they say, the events may be even more important this year, as lockdown, stresses from job losses and lessened access to in-person addiction treatment and support groups have made staying in recovery a precarious situation.
Clark County Circuit Court No. 2 Judge Brad Jacobs, a member of Clark County CARES, said it’s important to keep the substance and addiction issues in the community in the light.
“People are kind of forgetting that there are problems in the world other than the pandemic right now,” he said. “So it’s important to keep people talking about the opioid crisis and thinking about it.”
He added that as streaming has become more common, that may mean people who might not be ready to attend such community events publicly can still get access to crucial information for themselves or a loved one.
“We’ve streamed it every year but now everybody knows about streaming, we may reach 10 times as many people this year which could be huge,” he said.
The week is designed to cover a range of topics with events each day.
Monday starts with a panel including jail staff, a former judge and an advocate for people in poverty and homelessness to discuss the state of affairs in Clark County right now.
Tuesday will be a presentation on providers in the area, discussing types of care and resources that have evolved or emerged since the inception of Clark County CARES.
Wednesday will feature keynote speaker Doug Huntsinger, Indiana drug czar, followed by voices of people in recovery Thursday.
To start the weekend events, a Friday panel will feature representatives from local churches and Catalyst Rescue Mission.
Saturday, attendees will hear from local elected senators and representatives on where they think things are and should be.
On Sunday, community members will meet in person for the annual candlelight vigil at Big Four Bridge.
The events this year could be more instrumental in reaching more who need help in what has been a stressful years for many. While numbers aren’t yet final for all of 2020, Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said preliminary data shows an all-time high for overdoses in Clark County — both with opiates and other types of substances.
The death rate from overdoses is also up but not proportional to the overall cases themselves.
“Obviously the overdoses going up is extremely alarming but if there’s any silver lining it does show that some of our upfront interventions — the Narcan distribution, some of our ER programs and all the hard work of a lot of different organizations — are working,” Yazel said. Narcan or naloxone is the opioid overdose reversal drug available at several places including the health department and syringe-exchange program.
“And it just shows that with something like COVID, the minute there is an interruption in traditional services, you see a backslide to the peak years. That tells us that what we’re doing upfront is working to some degree but also we need to focus our efforts now downstream on keeping people in recovery and helping them integrate...into the community.”
Barb Anderson, executive director at Haven House Services Inc., said the correlation is clear between interruptions in services earlier in the year and higher relapse rates.
“People are relapsing at a quicker pace and that has a lot to do with COVID,” she said. “Being locked up, losing your housing, all the stress and pressure, it’s very pertinent this year because an addict is so close all the time.
“Stress is not a good thing, isolation is not a good thing, you can hardly go to meetings right now and those are things that they depend on.”