Overdose deaths in Vigo County are on record pace this year.

As of the fourth week of August, and with four months remaining in the year, 25 confirmed overdose deaths have been recorded by the Vigo County Coroner’s Office.

In the 12 months of 2020, overdose deaths numbered 28.

In 2019, the county had 18 overdose deaths.

Opioids – heroin, fentanyl, morphine and some prescription pain relievers — account for more than 70 percent of overdose deaths nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Vigo County, opioids account for almost all overdose deaths, the coroner’s office said.

Most of the overdoses are accidental — with only a few being intentional suicide. The age of victims ranges widely from 28 to 69 years old.

Mental health and social service professionals see the stress of the coronavirus pandemic looming behind the increase in substance use disorders.

“I just think this pandemic has been hard on everybody — employers and employees — the workforce has shifted,” said Myra Wilkey, chief executive officer of Mental Health America of West Central Indiana. “People are not OK. It’s not like you get sick and come back in a few days and resume work. People are self-medicating, wand there are all kinds of factors to consider.”

Suicide rates are also up due to the pandemic, Wilkey said, and Vigo County is following the national trend of more violent crime and increased use of drugs and alcohol.

“We are not used to being in isolation,” she said of the response to reduce spread of coronavirus. “It takes a toll on the human factor.”

The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow evictions to resume nationwide will increase housing insecurity, she said.

MHAWCI operates housing programs with apartments for low-income veterans and individuals with chronic mental illness.

The priority list for housing has more people than can be served in the next three years, Wilkey said.

“All local aid agencies have been overwhelmed,” she said, including food assistance as well as housing agencies.

Broad look at Substance Use Disorder

Local drug treatment and recovery programs are also operating at or near capacity.

The recent openings of the the Anabranch Recovery Center and Hickory Treatment Center in Terre Haute have been helpful in the treatment of substance use disorder in the community, Wilkey said.

Mark Johnson, community impact director for the United Way of the Wabash Valley, said the seriousness of the substance use disorder problem in the region helped attract those recovery programs to Terre Haute, and has caused other community-based treatment and recovery programs to expand as they are able.

The United Way of the Wabash Valley serves communities in Clay, Parke, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties in Indiana and Clark County in Illinois. The agency’s Substance Use Disorders Council recently released a report on the public health risk to local communities posed by substance use and related disorders.

Overdose death rates in Indiana surpass the death rates of other seemingly more common causes such as homicide, suicide, diabetes and kidney disease, the report states. Substance use disorders, or SUD, also place a strain on law enforcement and healthcare systems.

During more than 40 community conversations conducted around the service area, Johnson said, SUD came up in every conversation.

“Substance abuse disorder is indirectly affecting all of us, and that’s why United Way of the Wabash Valley is addressing this issue,” Johnson said.

Some misunderstanding remains about the disorder, he said, mostly surrounding the fact that SUD is a disease and people can recover to become productive in their communities.

Johnson said the concern about evictions and loss of housing is a valid issue, as that could prompt more people who have substance use disorder to lose their homes and live on the street.
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