JEFFERSONVILLE — Representatives from the state and national stage visited Clark County Thursday, getting a feel for what progress has been made by community members in the fight against the opioid and addiction crisis.
Douglas Huntsinger, newly appointed Indiana Drug Czar, and Anne Hazlett, senior adviser for rural affairs for the White House office of National Drug Control Policy, both praised the community for work in the fight over the past five years, at a dinner hosted by Clark County CARES Thursday night as part of its annual Drug Facts Week.
"We know that the answers to this do not come from Washington, D.C.," Hazlett said during the dinner, attended by many in the community. "The funding and policy may, but the solutions that are effective are going to be built at the community level."
Throughout the day, Hazlett got a baseline feel for what the community has — including initiatives in the past few years such as the syringe exchange program, expansion of LifeSpring Health systems facilities and new problem solving courts — and what's still needed.
She was glad to see how some of the work, through events like Clark County CARES and the agencies that come together through it, have made a difference here, such as the nearly 50 percent drop in overdose deaths since 2016.
"When I step back and think about the places that are creating real change to defeat this disease, I see two common ingredients that are essential to success," she said. "The first is erasing stigma and the second is collaboration, and I can tell you that both of those ingredients I have seen here today in Clark County."
Hunstinger agreed that the work must come from a local level, and that state and national leaders are increasing a push to support.
"Clark County CARES is really the one coalition in the state that is a true grassroots organization," he said. "...The best solutions will come from the boots on the ground."
Hazlett spoke to the audience about what the current administration has in the works for addressing the issue, including opening up federal funding this year in the Opioid Grant Response Program to include stimulants such as methamphetamine, which local officials have confirmed is becoming more prevalent in Southern Indiana.
"We have heard loud and clear the need for assistance beyond opioids," she said. "We are thrilled about this change; it's something we think will really have an impact. We know that methamphetamine in particular is wreaking havoc on many communities."
She spoke of how President Donald Trump's administration has made addressing addiction a priority, and in the past three years has brought together agencies through her office such as the U.S. Departments of Health and Human services, Justice, Agriculture and Education.
There are three main objectives, she said. The first is to prevent drug use before it begins, through education and campaigns targeted to youth and a closer watch on prescription drugs. Second comes the need to reduce the supply of drugs in the U.S. by providing more technological resources to law enforcement, postal service and investigating dark web purchasing. The third objective comes through helping people who want to recover get access to treatment and the resources needed to thrive.
"Like any other chronic disease, we believe that someone who wants to get help should be able to seek it quickly and be supported with those additional services needed to live a healthy and productive life," she said.