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Local and state leaders talk opioid crisis

ELKHART COUNTY, Ind.--- Elkhart County is continuing to fight back against the opioid epidemic. On Monday night, state and local leaders led a discussion in an effort to prevent more lives from being lost.

“The State and Local Response to the Opioid Epidemic” is the best opportunity for the public to get educate and ask questions.

Organizers say the goal is to try to intervene and help those affected understand that there are resources to get help in the community.

"Don't give up hope," said Vicki Becker, Elkhart County Prosecutor. "We're here and we're looking to help you and we're looking for ways to try and find you a pathway."

She was a part of the five-person panel Monday night, moderated by Dr. David Van Ryn, an Emergency Physician at Elkhart General Hospital.

“It’s a really complicated problem that requires lots of balanced resources to try to help these people recover from their addiction,” said Van Ryn. “There are communities around the state and the country who have had success with a team approach, so we all need to join together and find ways to help these people get better."

Panelists included: 

Jim McClelland, Executive Director for Drug Prevention, Treatment, and Enforcement

Don J. Selzer, MD, MS

Denise Robinson, Indiana Senior Deputy Attorney General

Vicki Becker, Elkhart County Prosecutor

Jessica Koscher, Elkhart County Drug-Free Partnership

Daniel Nafziger, MD, Health Officer

Each panelists adding perspective to the opioid epidemic in Elkhart County and the state of Indiana. 

“In the criminal justice system what we are looking for are primarily agencies that utilize evidence-based treatment programs or a combination of other types including faith-based or what have you in conjunction with evidence-based treatment,” said Becker.

Back in July, Becker announced her office would be getting tougher on drugs in Elkhart County. She reported that nearly twenty people had died from overdoses, eight of which were from heroin. 

Koscher provided new information on what local substance abuse programs are treating. 

"We are not seeing as of yet heroin coming into treatment programs at the rate that we are seeing traditional things like alcoholism and marijuana use,” she said. 

Alcohol and marijuana are the two most commonly used substances in the county, according to Koscher. 

"While heroin addiction and opioid addiction is something to definitely be concerned about addiction as a disease is something that is widespread,” she said.

The panel was just one of three events held on Monday: 

  • Clinically Focused CME Discussion on Opioid Addiction at Elkhart General Hospital, Patel Auditorium . 12 P.M.-1 P.M.
  • Social Impacts of Opioid Addiction at Elkhart General Hospital, Patel Auditorium. 3 P.M.-4 P.M.
  • Community Event: Panel Discussion of Opioid Addiction with Q&A Session at The Lerner Theater. 5 P.M.

During the first two sessions, geared more toward healthcare providers, Jennifer Walthall, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration Secretary, presented a number of facts on the state's epidemic. 

In Walthall's presentation, it showed that Indiana is increasing year by year in drug overdose death rates. Over 500 people between 20 and 39-years-old are dying because of this, according to the presentation. 

McClelland said the state has todo something about this, it has to tackle the problem aggressively.

"What we're trying to do here is create a safe, supportive, loving community for people who are struggling with addiction.

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