Newly released report highlights opioid issues, solutions for Vigo County

The United Way of the Wabash Valley has released a compilation of data on the opioid issue and how to address some problem-areas. There's also a new tool to connect people to help.

Posted: Jul 2, 2019 1:08 PM
Updated: Jul 3, 2019 9:38 AM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - The United Way of the Wabash Valley hopes to bring new solutions to the opioid crisis as the organization details issues facing the community in a new report.

Tuesday, the organization released a "Landscape Scan" about the problem. The report includes data and information collected over the course of two years through conversations with community members. It was made possible through the "UNITED Against Opioid Abuse Initiative."

AmeriCorps members were placed at 10 United Way chapters around the State of Indiana for the initiative. One of the goals of the program is to better understand the issues facing people dealing with addiction and how to help them.

“We are hopeful this landscape scan of our community brings awareness to the issue, but also provides a foundation for our Substance Use Disorders Impact Council to build from,” said Richard Payonk, United Way of the Wabash Valley Executive Director. “This landscape scan provided a “three-dimensional” observation—a look not only at the statistics, but an inclusion of the community voices to highlight the most significant pain points for real people living with this epidemic.”

The report includes observations complied through community surveys and conversations. According to the report, "They are intended to capture the general opinions and sometimes frustration expressed by those passionately devoting their energies in this field." It also highlights recommendations to solving those issues.

The United Way also released a new Asset Map connecting people with resources in the community. Clicking through the icons reveals contact information for medical offices, sober living houses, and more. The map appears to be one step in helping address the lack of a central place for information, as outlined as an issue in the report.

The information feeds into the United Way's Impact Council on Substance Abuse Disorders. The impact councils are part of the new strategy of the United Way of the Wabash Valley. The groups are made up of volunteers who are dedicated to finding solutions to issues facing the community. 

Observations as outlined in the report:

1. Undefined Lead Organization
There is not an official defined lead organization declared by the county in the substance abuse field. While there are some perceived lead organizations in the community and they take an active role, the other stakeholders as well as the community are not clear who is the lead organization. The lead organization by default goes to the one with established ties within the community. A collaborative effort has been established with the Drug Free Vigo County Coalition that meets once a month and is well attended by many, but not all segments of the community. Members of Drug Free Vigo County Coalition include Mental Health America, FSA Counseling, CASY, Gibault Children’s Services, Hamilton, NextStep along with other stakeholders.

2. Lack of Awareness of Services
There are many and varied substance abuse services in Vigo County, but the general public and the people needing the services are:
a. Not aware of their existence
b. Only securing services by word of mouth, court ordered, or random finding

3. Lack of Centralized Information and Communication of Services
There is not a centralized location either physical or electronic (on-line) for the community to go to speak with someone or access information on what services are available.

4. Lack of Detox and Inpatient Services, Intake Process
Two related issues around detox facilities and intake are detailed here:
a. There is not a facility that provides an all-encompassing recovery with umbrella services such as detox, residential treatment, transitional housing and intensive outpatient program in one facility. Patients are referred to “out of the area” facilities to receive detox treatment. The in-patient treatment portion after detox is limited in time and scope of services and availability. Harbor Light out of Indianapolis has been mentioned as a role model for a framework for a detox/residential/outpatient facility. One of the behavioral health centers will be providing detox services within 2018. One of the sober living facilities is in the beginning stages of becoming a Residential Recovery Community. It remains to be established if these facilities will meet the needs of the community.
b. The intake process for a patient varies from organization to organization and there is not a defined process guiding a patient to go to services. For example: A person needing immediate care is more likely to be instructed to go to the local hospital ER first then the ER refers the person to one of behavioral health centers. If the patient goes to the behavioral health center first they are sent to the ER where the ER sends them back to the behavioral health center.

5. Prevalence of Generational Substance Abuse
Historically in the Wabash Valley there has been generational poverty as well as generational drug use. The children see the parents use and/or manufacture drugs, the children becoming adults in turn create the same lifestyle as that is all that they know. With the legalization of marijuana in many states, this becomes a “gateway” drug. Kids today do not view drug use as harmful. Substance experimenting begins in middle school, ages 10-14.

6. Stigma/Communication
The stigma of drug use runs underneath the surface of the community culture of Terre Haute. Once drug use and manufacturing of the drugs took hold in the late 1990s, it has ebbed and flowed throughout the years. Some neighborhoods are so far removed from the issue that they are unaware of the problems until a drug overdose and an accidental killing occurs in their “gated community.” The general society belief is that the drug user “chose” taking drugs. Society has an easier time understanding when someone has a disease such as diabetes vs. taking drugs. Drug users often relapse and this can be seen as a weakness. 12-step groups, once you learn of their existence are plentiful here. A parent whose son overdosed on heroin is reluctant to discuss her story, obviously due to the pain and loss of a loved one, but you sense a lingering shame and resignation that nothing could have helped.

7. Naloxone (Narcan) Awareness & Distribution
There is awareness within the community for the use of Narcan, which is a medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids and heroin. While Narcan has been placed at schools and the fire and police carry it, there are only certain pharmacies that carry Naloxone for the general public.

8. Inadequate Transportation
City bus transportation has been noted as a barrier for people in treatment or recovery to be able to get to work or to the facilities they need to go to. It has been noted that city bus routes, times, and days do not meet the needs of the community as a whole. Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) conducted an experiment where several CASA members studied bus routes and took the bus. The bus lines and times and bus stops were not adequate for getting to work or school on a timely basis.

9. Employer Involvement Not Strong
According to our stakeholder conversations, there is a feel that employer participation in addressing the substance abuse issue has not occurred to date with possible exception of one major employer. Employers are reluctant to participate in the substance abuse conversation, generally noting that all is well. Further investigation through conversations with stakeholders indicate that drug abuse may go on in corporations, most notable a rumor of a third shift where a company chose not to drug test new hires as they knew employees could not pass a drug screen.

10. Lack of Education - Life Skills for Youth
Since there has been generational poverty and generational drug use, lack of life skills has been a factor for people moving forward into productive lives. There is little available in the way of education in basic life skills such as budgeting, time management, work search, resume writing, etc.

11. Insufficient Money/Funding/Resources
It was noted that prevention gets the least funding (here tobacco prevention was discussed as an example). There is 110 million dollars a year from tobacco settlement and only 5 million goes into prevention. Tobacco as well as alcohol can be gateway activities to opioid use. During the community conversations the conversation always pointed to children getting into opioid abuse/substance use at a young age, as early as 9 years old. Prevention programs of the past in the schools are not as plentiful as they once were as standardized testing takes time away from the programs. Faith based facilities do not get funding that they need. Positive role models, mentors, speakers were noted as active ways to combat the substance abuse issue.

12. Communication & Collaboration between Organizations
All of the organizations that participated in community surveys and those that have attended the community conversations have expressed interest in communication and collaboration between the organizations. All the organizations are working diligently for the patients, that there is not enough time or point of contact to initiate meetings so that organizations can interact with each other.

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