A Pill or People Problem?

Communities across the country have acknowledged the opioid crisis as a public health emergency, and Indiana has recognized the opioid crisis as a significant concern. In 2017, Governor Holcomb appointed Drug Czar, Jim McClelland, to coordinate efforts and bring awareness to this crisis. Indiana was ranked 15th for drug overdose deaths amongst all 50 states according to 2016 reports (National Center for Health Statistics, 2018). In 2020, Vanderburgh County had 27 Fentanyl Contributing Overdoses and 74 charges of Heroin/Fentanyl Possession.

What is an opioid?

“Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, n.d.). Opioids bind to receptors in the brain, creating false emotions and sensations.

Community Conversations

United Way conducted several community conversations to learn more about the issue. Stakeholders cited community education/awareness, or the lack thereof, surrounding substance use disorder, access to quality mental health and substance use treatment options, and lack of long-term treatment facilities. There is not only a lack of long-term treatment options in Vanderburgh County, but also transportation and insurance barriers that prevent use of existing treatment options. However, stakeholders have shared that they believe this community will be successful in tackling this epidemic. Vanderburgh County has many ongoing collaborative efforts, and many more are being created specific to substance use and mental health concerns. Our community has resources and organizations that are dedicated to public awareness, prevention practices, and creating changes.

Community Assessments

Organizations and individuals involved in fighting this epidemic were surveyed, and they reported that overall, Vanderburgh County has a very collaborative community. Surveyed individuals were asked to rate the current state of collaboration and direct impact on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a seamless system with a very strong positive impact on many people. The results of those questions are found in Graph 1. There was a misalignment identified in collaborative efforts and their direct impact. Based on more survey answers, the gap in collaborations and direct impact may be due to: an unclear first priority, an unknown convener/lead organization, and unclear performance measures. When asked, “Who is the lead organization or person convening and communicating with community stakeholders on these issues”, all respondents had a different idea of what organization it may be. To have a collective impact, our community organizations must know what aspect of an issue they are tackling first, who is organizing the effort, and how they are going to measure success or failure.

In Summary

The opioid issue is a problem in our community. Education and awareness, lack of long-term treatment centers, and affordability and insurance coverage are the issues. The Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force, the Vanderburgh County Health Department, Youth First, and the Promise Zone are among the many organizations working on the issues. For updated data, visit the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force website.


Epidemiology Resource Center Indiana State Department of Health. (n.d.). Stats Explorer. Retrieved from https://gis.gov/apps/isdh/meta/stats_laters.htm

National Center for Health Statistics. (2018, January 10). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/drug_poisoning_mortality/drug_poisoning.htm

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

Map of Treatment Centers and Community Resources in Vanderburgh County

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