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Southern Indiana events highlight paths forward for addiction treatment

Jay Chaudhary stands at a podium, with an American flag and a poster to his right as he speaks to a group of people at an event for Clark County CARES Drug Facts Week.
Aprile Rickert
Jay Chaudhary, director of the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, speaks at Clark Memorial Health in Jeffersonville Thursday.

The Southern Indiana community gathered this week for Clark County CARES’ eighth annual Drug Facts Week, which has included days of discussion and education around the state of substance use in the area.

During a keynote dinner Thursday, community members heard from Jay Chaudhary, director of the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction.

Chaudhary laid out findings from a two-year study from the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission, released in fall. The study found that gaps in services have led to an estimated $4.2 billion annual cost due to untreated mental illness in the state.

The report includes transitioning to a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic model for care, which is designed to increase access to care for mental health or substance use disorder regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

It also outlines plans for response programs to support Indiana’s implementation of 9-8-8, the new suicide and crisis lifeline introduced nationwide last year.

“I think you're seeing unprecedented energy and attention and mechanisms and resources and positive momentum,” Chaudhary said of local, state and federal initiatives to address mental illness. “But it's going to take a little bit of time for that to actually start to manifest. We didn't get this way overnight. And we're not going to dig our way out of it overnight.”

Indiana Senate Bill 1, which would establish some of the recommendations outlined in the report, is being considered by lawmakers this session.

Chaudhary also noted the strong connection between substance use and mental health issues.

“People with mental illness have much higher rates of addiction use,” he said. “And usually, addiction or [substance use disorder] is driven a lot of times by trauma, including mental health issues. And so I think that we really need to talk about them in the same breath.”

Beth Keeney, president and CEO at LifeSpring Health Systems, talked about changes to the community health center’s delivery of service, including Project CARE, a recent partnership with the Jeffersonville Police Department to help people with addiction issues get access to treatment.

LifeSpring has also started a mobile response for people in crisis, going to where they are.

“People need care when they need care, and they deserve care when they need care,” Keeney said.

At a luncheon earlier in the day, longtime journalist and author Beth Macy spoke to a crowd of around 150 people about changes she’s seen since first reporting on the opioid crisis a decade ago, along with what she’s learned since.

Macy’s 2018 book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America" was later turned into a series on the streaming service Hulu. It tells the story of how Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family contributed to the crisis. Her follow-up “Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis” delves into solutions and positive changes people are making in areas across the country.

Macy also said there’s a need to raise the conversations about harm reduction methods like medication for opioid use disorder — also known as medication assisted treatment or MAT — which includes buprenorphine and methadone.

She said especially in the era of highly potent fentanyl, it’s become harder for people to stop using opioids without help, and that, “If you look at the data, MAT prevents overdose deaths 60 to 80% versus abstinence only, which is 8 to 10 to 12%.”

She said stigma is still a big barrier to treatment for substance use disorder, but she’s encouraged that people are speaking up more and more.

“The fact that you have this many people come out, you have people standing up and telling their stories … and you know, with tears in their eyes … it's incredible,” she said. “And that's what it's going to take — getting these stories of recovery out.”

Drug Facts Week wraps up Saturday with a family fun day in the early afternoon and a candlelight vigil to honor those lost to or struggling with addiction in the evening. It will be at 6 p.m. at the Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville.

For more information, visit Clark County CARES on Facebook.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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