RICHMOND, Ind. – The smallest, most innocent heroin and opiate addicts in this region may also become heroes if ongoing community efforts against the drug are successful, say Reid Health officials.
A noticeable increase in addicted babies born at Reid in the past two years, coupled with a rise in overdose patients in the region, were among the main reasons that prompted Reid Health and other community agencies to launch an effort to combat heroin addiction in the area. The growing number of addicted babies, and with more deaths and injuries from heroin overdose, prompted a gathering of community agencies almost a year ago at Reid.
These efforts continue to grow and expand with more community involvement and education in the ongoing fight against a growing national problem that has arrived close to home.
“Out of that gathering, the ‘Heroin is Here’ committee was born,” said Lisa Suttle, who directs the psychiatric service line at Reid Health. “The group is made up of health care representatives from Reid, area law enforcement agencies, emergency services workers, elected officials, school system representatives and agencies who deal with and treat addiction in the community.”
Suttle said heroin addiction has grown drastically for many reasons.
“A lot of people move from pain medications to this,” Suttle said. She said 50 agencies were invited to the first meeting, and more than 60 attended, highlighting the growing concern about the problem.
Not only was the number of addicted babies being born rapidly increasing at Reid Health — 31 in 2014, up from only one in 2010 and four in 2011 — but police were also seeing crimes from addicts supporting addictions, coroners were finding heroin overdose increasingly the cause in death cases, emergency room doctors were seeing more overdoses, and mental health officials were seeing more people hooked.
It was clear, they all agreed. Heroin truly was here. And it was time to fight back.
So the committee began meeting monthly, working hard to assess the scope of the problem and starting to develop a plan of attack, with a goal to “collaboratively establish an environment that fosters a healthy, drug-free and substance-free lifestyle,” Suttle said. The group developed subcommittees including:
· Prevention/Education, made up of representatives from education, business, the media, health care and the coroner.
· Medication Assisted Treatment, made up of treatment center representatives and physicians.
· Emergency Medical Treatment, with Emergency Medical Services, police agencies and Reid Health Emergency Services.
· And Treatment Options, with representatives of regional mental health and treatment centers, Richmond State Hospital and some elected officials.
The group involves members from Wayne, Fayette and Randolph counties, and also has learned and shared information with a similar effort in Darke County, Ohio.
Craig Kinyon, Reid Health President/CEO, said Reid Health is making education and support for the effort a priority because of its huge impact on community health. Besides providing the committee a place to meet and other resources, the effort is being assisted through Reid Health Community benefit funds and other ways.
“Education on drugs and addiction for our children must never stop,” Kinyon said.
“Our most effective weapon in the Drug War is prevention,” Kinyon said. “The only way to stop the flood of addicted babies is to get immediate care for the Mom. Treatment follows education as our next effective measure to this cause. Without intervening care, the Mom will likely have another addicted baby. Treatment for addicted persons requires significant funding. If we don’t address these issues immediately, the costs to our society will be much higher than the costs for treatment. Our community can get behind this effort by contacting our elected officials to encourage more state and federal support for treatment programs.”
The efforts have included increased education, public service announcements using local media, and numerous similar efforts on many fronts.
“We are just hoping to throw as many tools and interventions at it as possible to decrease our problem,” Suttle said.
Sam Iden, M.D., Reid Health emergency physician, said the prescription narcotics addictions that often lead to heroin have been an issue for many years. If someone comes to the emergency room because of an overdose and survives, Dr. Iden said the patient is aided with withdrawal and then referred to other resources in the community – Reid Health does not offer inpatient treatment for heroin and narcotics addictions, but other community agencies such as Centerstone and Meridian offer outpatient help and referral to inpatient facilities in Indianapolis as needed.
Dr. Iden said an overdose on heroin is immediately life-threatening.
“You stop breathing — plain and simple. No oxygen to the brain, which equals brain damage or death.”
Dr. Iden also noted heroin and the use of needles can increase the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, adding more complications to the addiction crisis.
The bit of good news is that awareness of the issue is on the rise, he said.
Suttle noted the reality of increasing addictions in newborns was a major factor in prompting what has grown into a multi-pronged effort.
“The length of stay and the withdrawal process for a newborn is heartbreaking,” Suttle said. “At least, in a way, these innocent victims may also become tiny heroes for helping the community recognize the severity of the problem and making the decision to try to do something about it.”