Opioid deaths’ rise in Indiana rural areas alarms leaders at symposium

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LEBANON, Ind. (WISH) — The opioid epidemic has gotten out of control, Indiana authorities said Friday, and rural communities are being hit harder than ever.

Leaders came together at the Boone County Fairgrounds for the Ag/Rural Opioid Addiction Symposium.

Rural Indiana is a place where cornstalks instead of skyscrapers grow tall. County roads are more than enough for rush-hour traffic. It’s a seemingly quiet life, but with a deafening problem.

“I was partying and started out drinking and smoking weed, and it just escalated into a full-blown addiction,” Doug Payne said.

Payne is from Brown County, with a population of around 15,000. He struggled with drug addiction for more than 10 years.

“I was just losing everything. I had an awesome upbringing, great parents. It was all just kind of going away,” he said.

Payne is part of a troubling trend. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more and more people are overdosing on opioids in rural communities compared to urban ones, where drug abuse was once more prevalent. In fact, for the first time in more than 15 years, rural overdose deaths surpassed the urban rate in 2015. Jim McClelland, drug czar for Indiana, said he believes the reason rural communities are struggling has to do with a lack of opportunities.

“In communities, they’re more economically challenged. There tends to be more despair, hopelessness, if you will,” McClelland said.

McClelland spoke at the symposium. He said drug overdose deaths in the state have tripled over the past three years.

“It’s something that is just massive. It’s not only a large problem but it’s an incredibly complex problem that has to be attacked on multiple fronts at the same time,” he said.

Reducing opioid prescriptions, disrupting the supply of fentanyl, offering more treatment facilities, and the community working together — that’s a formula McClelland said he believes will create fewer tragedies and more stories like Payne’s. Payne has been clean for more than a decade.

“I feel great. I can’t ask for anything better,” Payne said.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young and Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, both Republicans, also spoke at the event.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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