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Bartholomew County sets record overdose deaths for 3rd straight year

Nearly half who died from overdose were older than 45. And there's a clear connection, experts say, to COVID. The pandemic hit older adults especially hard.

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind. — Startling statistics are coming out of Bartholomew County, where they've set a record for overdose deaths for the third straight year.

Now, the push to save lives from opioids just got more urgent in this community, to reverse the troubling trend.

According to Bartholomew County Coroner Clayton Nolting, since the pandemic, deaths have surged year after year.

  • 2018: 17 deaths
  • 2019: 24 deaths
  • 2020: 31 deaths
  • 2021: 33 deaths
  • 2022 year-to-date: 35 with one pending

"What we're doing right now is not working," Nolting said, when asked about the overdose numbers. "For a county with roughly 80,000 people, those numbers have been going up unfortunately steadily every year. Not good."

"It's really heartbreaking to fully understand, how as a community did we get here," added Julie Miller, executive director of Family Service, Inc., which provides counseling and mental health resources for families.

Most people who died, Nolting says, had fentanyl or a mix of multiple drugs in their system.

And the coroner found something surprising too – this is not a "young people problem."

Nearly half who died from overdose were older than 45.

"We have them in the 50s and 60s. We have, our first one of the year, he was actually 72 years of age," Nolting said.

"I think that is surprising," Miller said. "I think the majority of us all think that it's youth or in the 20s and 30s and, unfortunately, it's not."

And there's a clear connection, experts say, to COVID. The pandemic hit older adults especially hard.

"There is a lot of loneliness. They go into depression and suffer from, you know, mental trauma, just because they don't have a lot of people to talk to," said Richa Tandon, communications director for ASAP (Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress), which is a recovery resource center for people experiencing substance abuse disorder.

"Everything is trending upward regarding mental health, substance abuse, overdoses," Miller added.

To curb the crisis, community leaders are now expanding harm reduction tools and prevention.

RELATED: Nationwide sweep nets 10 million fentanyl pills

First, making available more free fentanyl test strips to detect danger in a drug and more free Narcan to save people's lives.

An "Opioid Rescue Kit" with those tools inside, is outside the ASAP Hub offices on 13th Street in Columbus.

Tandon said, already, it empties out after every weekend and needs to be refilled.

This month, the county is also starting a suicide and overdose fatality review team.

Thirty-five members of various community organizations and leaders will start meeting this month to dig into the data, discover the "why" in overdose deaths and find new solutions to reverse the current trend.

"Where our overdoses take place, what part of the city overdoses take place in," Nolting said.

"We'll be looking at patterns in our community, trying to find those gaps and those resources that we can really support those individuals to try to pinpoint what those pressure points are," Miller said.

RELATED: State leaders discuss role of mental illness in crime, incarceration

It's all to make sure they don't lose a record number of neighbors for yet another year.

"This coalition I think will put some great minds together and I think we'll see some good results," Tandon said.

"If we can save one person," Nolting said, "then our mission is more and more accomplished every single day."

To learn more about resources available, including training classes on how to properly use Narcan, click here.

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