SOUTHERN INDIANA — The opioid crisis has cost Clark and Floyd counties billions of dollars, according to a new Indiana University study — placing the two counties in the top 20 in Indiana.
The cost analysis, authored by Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Associate Professor of Finance Ryan Brewer and Indiana University Bloomington Doctoral Candidate Kayla Freeman, found that from 2003 to 2017, Clark County incurred $1.2 billion in expenses from opioid misuse while Floyd County lost $1 billion.
The costs included lost productivity that local businesses experienced from underemployed workers or those who died from overdoses (which can translate into lower revenues for local companies), as well as expenses felt on the public level, including strained court systems, police departments and hospitals.
Opioid misuse affected Clark and Floyd counties more than many in the state. Clark County ranked 8th in the state for amount spent on opioids, while Floyd County took 12th place. But when county expenses were adjusted for population, Floyd County jumped to 5th, while Clark County fell to 12th.
Last year, opioid abuse cost Clark County $117 million and Floyd County $101 million. The state was affected to the tune of $4.3 billion and costs are expected to rise this year.
Clark and Floyd county leaders did not seemed shocked by their rankings, although they all said that more should be done to bring theirs down.
Floyd County Councilman Brad Striegel saw the financial impacts of opioids take root when he worked as a reserve police officer.
“Those numbers aren’t too surprising to me, however, the average citizen is probably very surprised by those numbers,” he said.
In Floyd County, Sheriff Frank Loop is poised to hire 10 more officers and to spend $15 million on renovating and adding 110 beds to the county jail, which suffers from overcrowding and is largely occupied by individuals arrested for drug offenses. More money spent on the Floyd County criminal justice system means less for other projects, such as road work and health department activities, Striegel said.
In Clark County, expenses are the same. Kevin Burke, the former health officer for the county, now a member of the local grassroots organization to fight drug addiction, Clark County Cares, did his own calculations back in January to determine how much the opioid crisis was costing the county.
He came up with a similar number to Brewer’s — $100 million per year — and discovered that much of the county’s police department and court budgets were being used to deal with people who had committed drug offenses.
Burke also found that Clark County hospitals were being inundated by uninsured patients with drug-related medical issues, and Clark County Commissioner Jack Coffman learned businesses were experiencing workforce issues due to drug use.
In an interview with the News and Tribune, Brewer said that the purpose of his studies were to provide a guide for communities on how much to spend on the crisis.
Clark and Floyd county leaders differ on how money should be invested in the epidemic.
Burke’s philosophy is that if Clark County doesn’t pay now, it will have to pay more later. Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said he wasn’t for the government “throwing” money at the crisis — unless he heard of a good solution. Burke has identified four.
Each one, Burke thinks should be enacted by almost every Indiana county. His first recommendation is a syringe exchange, followed by the implementation of a drug court, broadly available narcan, a response team that helps individuals if they’ve overdosed on opioids and — most importantly to Burke — an anti-drug education program for K-12 students.
Unlike Floyd County, Clark has already implemented a syringe exchange, family drug court and overdose response team. Both Clark and Floyd distribute narcan in various ways — Floyd through EMTs, firefighters and the health department and Clark, through the same channels plus the syringe exchange and the sheriff’s department.
Floyd County Commissioner Mark Seabrook said he wasn’t convinced that a syringe exchange was a good idea, although he thought a drug court might be.
Neither county has started an educational drug program yet. Loop said he thought drug education should be a parent’s job instead of the school’s.
Some communities across the state have found success in banding different agencies together. In Columbus, a Bartholomew County opioid response initiative was formed by the mayor, a county commissioner and the CEO of the local hospital, and it receives help from the county court, local churches and residents.
In Clark County, local emergency medical service providers, fire departments, nonprofits, law enforcement officers and every municipality is involved in some capacity with efforts to put together an opioid response plan funded by a state grant, said Clark County Health Officer Eric Yazel.
Striegel has his own ideas about what Floyd County needs.
“I think the biggest thing we are lacking and probably one of the reasons why see those numbers, especially in Clark and Floyd counties down here, is we don’t really have an 60 or 90 day treatment plan facilities to treat people who have addiction problems,” he said.
Striegel would like to see the effort for more treatment centers start in the private sector, but he’d also be open to the county getting involved if an organization needed help getting started or sustaining operations.
In the past, he’s seen some Floyd County leaders minimize the opioid issue.
“Obviously, you can look at the trends since they made those statements and really that they’re just flat out wrong,” he said. “We do have a problem.”
And in his opinion, it needs to be addressed.