It has been almost seven years since recovery efforts in Clark County ramped up.

In Clark County, 2014 and 2015 were brutal years as far as drugs were concerned. We had 97 deaths in one year in drug-related episodes. That, along with the HIV crisis in Scott County, was the catalyst for Clark County Cares to form and to advocate for change in recovery efforts in Substance Use Disorders.

We met on a snowy, cold January night in St. Paul’s Church. I had written a column on Scott County’s crisis and asked if we could be Scott County. In my heart I knew the answer. That summer alone I attended 10 funerals for the newly adult children of many families I knew. Prominent families, poor families, every day working families and religious families. They all knew addiction and loved someone suffering with that reality.

We gathered to find out what was working and how to make it grow, what was needed that we didn’t have, and really more than anything, how we could heal and move forward as a community. We have met every Monday since with the exception of holidays. Our deaths had declined to 32 last year but the ugly reality of COVID has contributed to a spike in the number of deaths.

When we began our efforts to join hands as providers, families, churches and community, we did so to find out how to make life simpler for those suffering addiction and how to help those living with them to cope with that truth.

We educated. Every January we have continued to host a weeklong series of the latest programming. People with Substance Use Disorders telling their stories, and the professionals in this community sharing on what has worked and what we still need. This is Substance Use Disorder Month and we need to look at where we are. The truth is much has been done.

Seven years ago we had three to four residential services (Serenity House, Wellstone, Turning Point (LifeSpring Health Systems), and Bliss House). Today we have many more in Clark County. Jerry’s Place was opened but closed this year. Remnant House, Oxford Houses, Southern Indiana Treatment Center (outpatient only), Wooded Glen, and several others have opened.

Our beds are better but we need even more. Six years ago the drug of choice was heroin. Today it has reverted back to methamphetamine. It is harder to treat than last year because of COVID and the restrictions placed on providers. While we have made great strides, we have much to do before we can feel comfortable.

The Clark County Health Department has trained us all and continues to train the community in how to use Narcan. In Jeffersonville it is carried by the police and has saved many lives. I hope surrounding communities will start to use it because so many lives have been saved with it.

The success of the needle exchange program operated by the health department has kept many alive as well and where there is life there is hope for recovery. Many of those lives are forever changed as they have begun new lives, without using drugs and some have even become educated as Peer Recovery Coaches working with LifeSpring, the health department, the jail and other organizations to help those in need of recovery access it and continue on with it.

The lives of the Peer Recovery Coaches are inspirational and dramatic. They have survived addiction and lived to talk of it. Many did not. New programs are in the jails and the Jeffersonville Police Department now works with LifeSpring to work with those addicted and on the street because this issue is about so much more than drugs.

So many of those using substances do so to stop the pain. Early childhood trauma, addiction to pain pills, family struggles and mental health issues all are contributing factors. Many of the homeless I have served and continue to serve struggle with addiction so much of the time it can be traced back to a time when life was too hard to deal with so self-medicating became the norm. The effects on the families of those dealing with Substance Use Disorder is complex. It often results in alienation, broken relationships, distrust, anger, and even death.

We aren’t out of the woods yet — we have a long way to go. Our deaths will need to go down again, the numbers of those needing services will need to decline, the strain on families will need to be recognized and dealt with, and above all else, we have to continue to build programming and services that will provide comprehensive treatment for both those suffering from Substance Use Disorder and their families.

The survivors are many fold. Those who experience recovery fully, their families and friends, and the community are so much better off because of the changes made in just one small county in Indiana. We can do better than this, and we will.

Barbara Anderson is a local human rights activist. Contact her at barbanderson_1@yahoo.com.

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