Montgomery County Health Department Administrator Amber Reed was asked Tuesday at the Montgomery County Council meeting to address a billboard her department has placed on East Wabash Avenue.
The billboard proclaims the Indiana State Board of Health has ranked Montgomery County ninth for “at risk population” for opioid abuse.
Councilman Gary Booth asked Reed to explain the statistic.
Reed said the rating was calculated by the ISBH using criteria from 2009 to 2014. The statistics include all drug overdose deaths from 2010 to 2014 and opioid-related deaths from the same period. Statistics from 2009 to 2013 of non-fatal emergency room visits involving opioids.
Reed also reported that updated statistics from 2015 show an improvement in the numbers. During 2010 to 2015 the county ranked 57th out of the 92 counties in opioid-related deaths. Using the original data, Montgomery County was ranked 43rd. Overall drug overdose deaths now puts the county 13th from fourth.
“Using the updated statistics we have seen improvement,” Reed said. “However, we still have a major problem that we need to start dealing with.”
Montgomery County Councilman Mark Davidson acknowledges the county has a drug abuse problem which costs the county a lot of dollars. He also told Reed he believes she does an outstanding job running the health department. However, he questioned why the local health department decided to place the information on a billboard for all to see.
“We are trying to promote economic development and I am not sure that encourages businesses to come here,” Davidson said. “I know there is a problem, but I am just not sure advertising the problem was the best way to approach it. I am not sure I like seeing our dirty laundry on a billboard.”
Reed understood Davidson’s position, but she said the billboard was to raise awareness to the problem and as a way to publicly acknowledge there is an opioid abuse problem in the county.
Since the billboard was placed in the city, Reed’s department has received numerous phone calls and that it has started a lot of community discussion.
“We wanted to raise awareness,” Reed said. “While it might be ugly, if we do not disclose the problem, we might be accused of hiding it.”
Montgomery County Councilman Gary Booth reminded his fellow councilmen of the large amount of money drug abuse costs government and residents. He believes recovery programs are the solution, which eventually will decrease the money being spent dealing with drug abuse in the community.
Reed said there were meetings being held “under the radar” to address the drug abuse problem involving several different agencies. She reassured the council her department is continuing to work on improving the problem.