NEW ALBANY — It was not a designation uncommon for many communities in 2015, as the opiate addiction crisis was ravaging cities and counties both large and small.
That year, Floyd County was identified by the Indiana Department of Mental Health and Addictions as being at-risk for sizable cases of prescription drug abuse. To try to combat the problem, Our Place Drug and Alcohol Education Services was awarded a grant aimed at implementing prevention strategies over a five-year period.
With about a month left before that grant expires, those close to the program said it has made a tremendous impact on prescription drug abuse in several ways by reaching a variety of demographics.
“We’re really proud of the work we were able to accomplish with this project,” said Casey Nesmith, prevention program coordinator for Our Place.
He presented some of the highlights of the program to the Floyd County Commissioners during a Tuesday meeting.
One of the biggest changes locally has been in the number of practitioners registering for INSPECT. The program monitors when prescriptions are filled to prevent what’s commonly referred to as “doctor shopping.”
Nesmith explained that this is important for several reasons including preventing elderly people from having a high-powered medication filled more than once by mistake, which could potentially be life-threatening.
Nesmith said elderly prescription drug users are actually at the highest risk of becoming addicted as they generally take more medication than people in younger age groups.
When the project started, Nesmith said they found that only about 40% of practitioners were registering prescriptions through INSPECT. As the grant funding period comes to an end, about 97% of doctors, veterinarians, dentists and other professions who can write prescriptions are now registered in Floyd County.
“That was something we were really proud of,” Nesmith said.
The INSPECT registration is only for prescriptions that are considered controlled substances.
The grant funded several initiatives including school programs, education and surveys related to drug use and abuse. Nesmith said Our Place has enjoyed several partnerships that made the project a success including with local schools, Baptist Health Floyd Hospital and the Floyd County Health Department.
Another key part of the project was the prescription drug take-back program. Floyd County has more locations now for dropping off unused or unwanted prescription drugs than it did before the grant was received in 2015. Baptist Health Floyd, the health department and the police station at Indiana University Southeast are among the locations with prescription drop boxes.
A major partner in that effort has been the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department where there’s a drop-off site inside the lobby of the Floyd County Jail.
Some funds from the grant were used to purchase two incinerators for the sheriff’s department to destroy the prescription pills after they’ve been collected. Nesmith said not only does this help get prescription medication off the streets and out of homes where it’s no longer needed, but it also saves the county money as it keeps the sheriff’s department from having to pay for another agency to destroy the pills.
“I can tell you it’s one of the better programs that we’ve got and I’ve expanded on it since I became sheriff,” said Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop. “I’ve been trying to find other places in the community to place additional boxes because the program is so successful.”
During a National Take Back Day, it’s not uncommon for Floyd County to receive 160 pounds or more of prescription drugs, Loop said.
“I have these boxes that get picked up every week, and we’re firing up our incinerator probably every Friday,” he said.
It’s important to get unused prescription drugs off the streets for several reasons, Loop said. They need to be disposed of in a safe way for environmental concerns, and it’s dangerous to have old prescriptions sitting in a house where a child could find and ingest them, he said.
Though there are reasons to be encouraged, Loop said prescription drug abuse will always be a concern.
Heroin and methamphetamine are the drugs causing some of the biggest issues now in Southern Indiana, but prescription drug abuse is still probably the most prevalent addiction in Floyd County, Loop said.
Though the grant is coming to an end, Nesmith said many of the programs launched through the initiative will continue. He added that there are other grants in the works for Our Place that will help the community fight drug abuse and addiction.
For more information, go to ourplaceinc.org.