FLOYD COUNTY — Breaking down the stigma associated with addiction is one of the main goals of a Floyd County health initiative.

A group of community partners has come together to implement a number of programs designed to prevent overdoses, promote systemic change in the community’s approach to substance abuse and educate the community about issues of addiction.

Floyd County was one of 16 counties to receive a grant through IUPUI’s ECHO (Opioid Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) Center in 2020. The county received about $90,000, which is part of an overall $900,000 for the statewide grant.

MeriBeth Adams-Wolf, executive director of Our Place Drug and Alcohol Services, said the group is finding that fighting the stigma associated with addiction is an essential part of their efforts and the community partners are launching a campaign to address the issue.

Through the initiative, they are hoping to provide education so people in the community can have a better understanding of substance abuse disorder.

“We want to make sure people understand addiction is not something people choose — they don’t choose to have substance abuse disorder,” Adams-Wolf said. “It impacts every walk of life. You cannot stereotype this issue. Every type of demographic is impacted by this.”

Community partners involved in the local ECHO initiative include the Floyd County Health Department, coroner’s office, Baptist Health Floyd, Open Door Youth Services, Clark-Floyd Systems of Care, Breakaway Women’s Transitional Home, Our Place Drug and Alcohol Services and the IU Southeast Applied Research & Education Center.

The initiative supports a wide variety of efforts across various organizations. A peer recovery coach is available at Our Place and is working with the Floyd County Health Department’s new mobile unit to work with people throughout the community.

The program also includes the placement of eight NaloxBoxes (kits equipped with the opioid reversal drug naloxone) in spots throughout the community. The kits have been purchased and will be distributed to places such as St. Marks United Church of Christ in New Albany, the health department, Our Place and the police department at IUS.

Melissa Fry, director of the Applied Research and Education Center at IUS, is involved in gathering information from the hospital, police, and other agencies to form a dashboard showing how addiction and overdoses are affecting the community.

The program has also allowed a new overdose-fatality review team at the health department to meet monthly. The team looks at overdose cases in an effort to determine barriers that may have contributed to an overdose death.

Educational programs are also a major part of the ECHO initiative, including after-school programs on early prevention. Recently, Our Place was able to expand its prevention program to include eighth graders.

At Baptist Health Floyd, staff are working with hospital leadership in the hope of developing a program where patients in the emergency room can be referred to a peer recovery coach.

In the next month, one of the next steps for the ECHO initiative is launching an anti-stigma media campaign that will include a billboard on Grant Line Road, banners and a social media effort.

They are finding a number of ways to get the word out. Community partners will participate in a social media campaign on the topic of addiction featuring the hashtag “QuitStigmaNow.”

Carla Christie, healthier community initiative coordinator at Baptist Health Floyd, is working with fellow nurse Rebecca Didelot on the ECHO initiative.

“We need to educate our community on this issue that when we treat people who have substance abuse disorder, the stigmas are not helping them heal,” she said. “When you come in with judgement, that’s just another barrier.”

“With the pandemic, isolation is a big piece of this — when people are already isolated and you bring in the stigma piece, you are just further delaying their healing.”

Adams-Wolf said the one of the challenges has been getting various agencies moving in the same direction at the same time.

“We know life is precious and want to do whatever we can to save lives, and I think sometimes different partners and different departments in the community have different routes in how they want to get there,” she said.

Christie said she is excited to see so many community organizations join together to address this issue.

“I do think it is comforting to be able to see all these agencies come together and work on the same thing to help our community,” she said. “There are people out there who care about the community and want to come together.”

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