Fatal overdoses keep rising across Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS – Wednesday marks International Overdose Awareness Day, which recovery organizations say is a chance to mourn those who have died from overdose but also highlights the possibility of recovery.

State data from 2018 to 2021 shows a 57% increase in overdose deaths across Indiana. In 2021, approximately 2,500 people died from overdoses. That number was up from around 1,600 in 2018. Experts believe that number could be even higher this year than last year.

“What’s more important about that is, those are people’s lives,” said Indianapolis licensed clinical social worker Stephanie Anderson. “Those aren’t just numbers, those aren’t crime scene investigation or runs by EMS. Those our lives that are impacted.”

Recovery experts like Anderson say International Overdose Awareness Day provides a chance to grieve that loss, but also look to the future.

“We want to remember those people that we’ve lost due to overdose deaths,” she said. “We also want to remember that there is hope, that overdose and dying by overdose doesn’t have to be the end result, that there is treatment and help available. There’s a whole other life on the other side of substance use.”

Kyle Morris is a realtor in the area who said he used to struggle with opioid abuse. Now, he is six years sober, still happily married and a proud father of two children.

Morris said he was introduced to painkillers when he was 18 and then struggled with addiction for 19 years. He said his addiction led him to become very emaciated, but overdose never really popped into his mind.

“You know when you’ve been doing it so long, you convince yourself that you’re safer than that,” Morris said. “Like the risk doesn’t register with you for some reason. Probably just because you do it day in and day out.”

He now is very active in helping others with their journey to recovery, but along the way he said he has lost some friends to overdose.

“I’ve got friends who’ve passed away, quite a few friends, just from kind of my engagement in helping others,” Morris said. “I do know a lot of people who have overdosed. I know a lot of people who have not been resuscitated. I have a friend right now who is in the ICU on a fan. I deal with it a lot. I really, really do.”

He said many people struggling with addiction likely never consider overdose as a possiblity.

“None of them I would say ever considered that was what was going to happen,” Morris said. “It was just daily use and then you’re just gone forever. Like it’s just this really odd situation where you don’t understand the reality that you’re living in and the risk that you’re actually experiencing because you did it yesterday with no problem.”

Experts say there are so many different factors that contribute to drug use and the rising number of overdoses, but the pandemic certainly made things worse. They say the issue was growing prior to the pandemic as well.

“No person is immune to a substance abuse disorder,” Anderson said. “It does not discriminate.”

On top of that, Anderson said drug addiction impacts almost everyone in some shape or form. Experts say for every overdose loss, it’s estimated that at least 10 people are impacted by that loss. That includes family, friends, and coworkers.

Anderson said the prevalence of fentanyl has only made the issue even worse.

“We’ve also become the crossroads of America for fentanyl,” she described. “Easy access to it, it’s cheap, it’s quick and it’s taking a hold of people.”

Anderson said recovery is even more difficult for people when drugs are laced.

“Now we are looking at an even tougher recovery process because we are looking at someone who is withdrawing from two substances and the effects of that on their body,” she said.

Morris said it was often a difficult path to sobriety, but a path that is certainly possible for anyone who is struggling with addiction.

“You’re not alone,” he said. “There’s more people out there than you would ever expect. Being in recovery myself, I’m surrounded by it. Some people just aren’t open about it, which I understand with the stigma associated. I wish it wasn’t like that. That’s why I choose to be open.”

Both Morris and Anderson said it is important to create a dialogue around drug abuse in order to help eliminate that stigma. Morris said it is important for people to know drug abuse all stems from a larger mental health issue.

He said it is important for people struggling with addiction to know that there are resources out there that can help. Morris said treatment is crucial, but there is something else he argues is just as important when it comes to recovery.

“A sense of community is what I’ve found tends to be the best success rate,” he said. “You have to do treatment and all these other things, but you need to have a sense of connection with something bigger than yourself, whether it be peer-to-peer recovery, whether it be the church, or whether it be the gym or volunteering, or whatever it may be.”

Morris said it is important to connect with people who have gone through similar situations.

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