Addiction: How did we get to a crisis mode in Indiana?

MUNCIE, Indiana NEWS – The Scott County, Indiana needle exchange program ushered in reluctantly by Governor Mike Pence was a sign that our drug abuse epidemic had reached a point where drug addicts were so hard up for a fix they shared used needles with others who were infected with HIV. Now there is an epidemic in the Southern Indiana county and other counties not being publicized at this point. No governor wants to admit that their state has a drug addiction problem, but exchanging contaminated needles is a sure sign we’re in crisis mode.

We got more evidence a few weeks ago when Scott County officials said they cannot afford to hire more public safety officials – the money just isn’t there. The sheriff was appealing to the governor and other state lawmakers by asking for assistance with writing federal grants. Meanwhile, our governor continues bragging about a $2.1 billion surplus he’s created off the backs of local communities, public schools and social programs.

Then more recently, during the first meeting of the governor’s Drug Task Force when Dr. Andrew Chambers, a psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at IU said, “We may be in a much better place in ten years.” He went on to say:

The state’s issues with mental health and drug use have been years in the making. There’s a lack of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals trained and working in Indiana, and on top of that, there’s no place for them to work.

We really have to build our own infrastructure and workforce in Indiana. It`s actually really hard to recruit addiction psychiatrists because they`re in demand everywhere in the United States. It just happens our shortage is one of the worst examples.

One of Indiana’s lawmakers tried to point across state lines for blame or solutions, saying, “There are a lot of issues popping up today that we have to solve,” said State Senator Jim Merritt. “Some of the issues include barriers to treatment because of state boundaries. Mental health advocates said the state should honor professional licenses from other states, allowing practitioners to cross state lines.”

Nice diversion, but it didn’t work on Dr. Chambers who responded, “I’m afraid that isn’t a solution. The surrounding states are in shortages, but not as bad as ours.”

State officials and some of our Hoosier neighbors like to ignore drug addiction or dependency on drugs. Their reasoning is it’s the result of poor moral choices by individuals. Make better decisions and the problem goes away. However, this ignores the clinical diagnosis, or disease aspect of addiction.

Addiction is a disease of mind, body, and spirit. It may be genetic and/or environmental. One thing for certain, if you’re an addict, expect a steady diet of jails, mental institutions, with the inevitable outcome of death. If affected in Indiana, your prognosis isn’t very good.

Many addicts start their cycle of insanity with prescribed painkillers – opioids. Due to price and restrictions, many swap prescriptions for heroine which has become plentiful in the USA. We had lots of folks addicted to prescription drugs before heroine because readily available. If you cannot afford the higher end drugs, then methamphetamine becomes an option. Delaware County has led the state in identifying and busting meth dealers.

While we all know that hopelessness leads to drug addiction, it doesn’t address Dr. Chambers point of not being able to afford drug addiction counselors. They cannot be found because they are in high demand. That also means that Indiana has done a poor job attracting drug addiction counselors to our community. Why is that?

If you ask a local case worker at Meridian Health Services about resources, you’ll get a very interesting answer. They are paid near poverty wages to handle those with addictions and our mentally ill. Most of the existing employees haven’t received a raise in over seven years. Yet, according to a 2012 IRS Form 990 submitted by Meridian Health Services, the CEO, Hank Milius, made nearly $500,000 in compensation.

If you cannot afford to hire drug addiction counselors when your community is being overtaken by drug addicts, and local police are over staffed requiring a Local Option Income Tax paid by all working adults in the county, how can you afford to pay one man a half million dollars?

What’s even worse is they contribute nothing to police or fire by the way of property taxes or Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) because the IRS has classified them as “tax-exempt”. This is just one man – there are many “executives” at Meridian Health Services isolated on the second floor away from those serving our mentally ill and addicts.

Just for emphasis, Indian closed the door on psychiatric facilities, which puts these folks in our communities, but provides no extra resources for the local police and EMS. It’s estimated that 80% of our local prison population suffer from mental illness.

As Dr. Chambers and our state senator mentions, our problems have been a culmination of both demand and supply issues ignored by state officials. Closing the mental hospitals by former Governor Mitch Daniels just scattered mental health and drug addiction issues back into communities. Add to this an economy and political system which is serving a few Americans, but disenfranchises millions more, and you create a perfect storm for a crisis.

This is just one of many articles coming about community denial and addiction.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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