ANDERSON — Madison County had 30 confirmed overdose deaths in the first seven months of 2021. But the real number of overdoses is much higher, local experts say.

“The numbers are only a very small fraction of the real overdoses in Madison County. We’re talking 20% to 30% of the real overdoses,” said Ryan Troub, peer recovery coordinator for the Madison County Health Department.

According to Troub, most people who overdose don’t make it to the hospital. 

“People do CPR on them all the time,” Troub said. “I mean, that’s the lifestyle they live, so that’s what they’re used to.”

Recently, officials have seen a rise in “pressed pill” usage locally. According to Troub, about 50% of overdoses come from pressed pills.

“They are pills that might look like a prescription medication, but who knows what is in it,” said Stephenie Mellinger, Madison County Health Department administrator.

Dealers may take one substance and mix it with the opioid fentanyl or another substance and then put it into a pill press to make it look like oxycodone, Mellinger explained.

Fentanyl has been mentioned as a cause of death in eight of county’s 30 overdose deaths this year through July. Of the 58 overdose deaths in 2020, 41 involved fentanyl.

The holidays often bring an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for substance abuse habits.

“We have lots of treatment centers in this county,” Mellinger noted. “At one point, we had more treatment centers in this county than any other county in the state, and yet we still couldn’t get people into treatment that was needed.”

As a peer coordinator, Troub helps people get needed resources, whether that be treatment, food, clothing or other necessities.

“He works at syringe services with Aspire some. He goes and sits over there in case somebody who comes for syringes maybe is ready or wants to have a conversation about what treatment might look like,” Mellinger said. 

The county’s needle exchange program provides clean syringes and other items for addicts to discourage the sharing of needles and the spread of hepatitis, HIV and other blood-borne diseases. Counseling for drug addiction is offered to those who use the program.

Troub not only works one-on-one with people, he also can connect them to resources such as therapy or treatment.

“When they come in here, I make the calls for them. The only thing they may have to do is talk through the speaker phone,” Troub said.

At the health department, Troub tries to make it as easy as possible for people to get the help they need.

“Getting into rehab, the most stressful part is you’re calling rehabs and they might not accept your insurance,” Troub said.

“It helps that I know what places do what, so after just having a short conversation with them, I can pretty much narrow down where they need to go.”

Madison County also has an abundance of drug abuse awareness groups, including Walk for Hope, a non-profit run by Troub.

“There’s so much of the problem in this county that even with all the agencies, it’s still not enough to handle what needs to be addressed,” Mellinger said.

“It’s great to have the resources, but it’s still not quite enough.”

The county has a strategic plan to move beyond awareness and toward an implementation phase, according to Mellinger.

“Change is hard, change is painful. So it’s trying to move in that direction,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll get going sooner than later.”

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