At the end of most conferences there’s a session on “takeaways.” It’s a time of sharing key points to remember and best practices to take back to your workplace. It’s the opportunity to share your thoughts and engage in final networking.

Then you go home.

Whatever made the greatest impression on you while listening to an engaging speaker or reading a compelling dossier is what you will remember. Of course, you could always revisit your notes, but even without doing so you will be left with a feeling that the conference was either a worthwhile investment of your time — or a waste of it.

We hope you found something of merit in our special report “Crossroads of Crisis: Heroin Epidemic Demands Solutions,” which wraps up today. We did.

Addicts. Experts. Survivors. We learned from them all as we dug a shovel into Southern Indiana to help uproot the hold the opioid epidemic has on our communities.

It is, you know, an epidemic. If we were honest with ourselves, it would be listed among the most deadly. Naloxone, the anti-overdose drug, continues — daily — to bring users back to life. It’s the main reason the high numbers of opioid deaths aren’t even more outrageous.

People are dying, though, including young people whose lives held such promise.

In our series, we heard from a mom who lost her daughter to heroin; she shared, “A week after her funeral, people I am not really close to went about their day ... I wanted their life to stop like mine had.”

The heartbreak isn’t new. A public health researcher told us, “We’ve attempted to have this war on drugs. We’ve lost for decades and this is where we’re at today. Hopefully we won’t be there in the future — there won’t be a need for syringe service programs — but this is where we are today.”

We were uplifted by another mother who, though her children are addicted, clings to hope; and by a former addict, now a youth counselor, who renewed our belief in the ability of the human spirit to overcome adversity.

Here’s more of what we learned from our reporting:

• It doesn’t matter if you live in a Floyds Knobs subdivision or Haven House homeless shelter — we’re all vulnerable to addiction.

• When you are detoxing — the pain hurts so bad you want to die.

• No one can make you recover from substance abuse — you have to want it.

• Most addicts never saw it coming.

• Most jail cells hold drug users and sellers.

• Employers will pay — sooner or later — for their workers’ substance abuse.

If there were only something we could do, besides ringing our hands and shaking our heads …

But there are — lots of things — we could be doing, but won’t, or don’t.

For example, we need a medically supervised place for people to detox. It’s better than a trash-filled alley or the cold concrete of a jail cell. It’s more humane. It offers better outcomes. We talk about it, but that’s about it.

Our passivity is palpable.

For instance, the next-best way, besides a needle exchange, to get spent, dirty needles off our streets is to place needle drop boxes in easily accessible spots in our communities.

Too many places, including New Albany, have rejected that idea, mostly for reasons rooted in fear and lack of knowledge.

That’s really where we need to start making headway against opioids — getting our heads in the right place.

We have to adjust our thinking, change our attitudes toward those who abuse substances.

They aren’t bad people. They are people with problems — just like the rest of us.

They hate it, more than we hate them. And we do. We resent that “element” in our communities. We deem the money spent on treatment as wasted as surely as if it were flushed down the toilet.

There by the grace of God go we… Befallen by drugs, we can only pray someone is there to help us up.

— If you missed any part of the series, all the stories, photos and videos can be found on our website at newsandtribune.com.

— Susan Duncan is the editor of the News and Tribune. Reach her at 812-206-2130 and susan.duncan@newsandtribune.com.

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