Armed with grant monies received by the state of Indiana, Blackford County Health Department officials say they they will be going out into the community in an effort to tackle the community’s on-going drug abuse problem.
During a health board meeting last week, Blackford County Health Officer Lori Skidmore told board members that health officials would be going to various addiction recovery and support groups throughout Blackford County to talk about HIV and hepatitis C to those most vulnerable.
Skidmore said the department had entered into a service contract with health educator Mary Glaser who will not only provide information about HIV and hepatitis C, but will also provide testing for the two viruses that are often spread by the sharing of needles.
To help lessen the potential spread of such viruses, in particular hepatitis C, the health department will also be setting up sharps kiosks outside the health department office located at 506 E. Van Cleve St., in Hartford City, and at a site in Montpelier.
Alnita Stroble, registar and office manager for the health department, said funds from a $50,000 Special Project Grant that was awarded to the county last fall by the Indiana State Department of Health will pay for the kiosks and the HIV and hepatitis C testing.
The grant monies also paid for dosages of Narcan that the health department is providing to first responders in case they are exposed to heroin while performing their duties. Narcan is a brand name for Naloxone which is a drug that can temporarily reverse potentially deadly effects of opioid overdose in an emergency.
The health department has also applied for another grant that if awarded would provide dosages of Narcan to the public free of charge. Narcan can be purchased at any pharmacy without a prescription.
Other grant funds were used to purchase harm reduction kits and small sharp containers for drug abusers. The items would be available at the health department office as well as at the emergency room of Blackford IU Hospital.
The grant monies were awarded by the state to help address issues related to substance abuse problems and the resulting serious community health complications.
It was in January 2017 when local health officials announced that they would be meeting with state health officials to discuss Blackford County’s ranking at that time as one of the top 18 counties in the state dealing with prescription drug abuse issues.
Strobel told The News-Times then that the state had requested the meeting after the department’s annual report for 2016 showed an obvious increase in the number of local deaths directly related to drug and or alcohol abuse.
Out of a total of 114 deaths reported in 2016 in Blackford County, seven deaths were directly related to drug abuse, and one was directly related to alcohol abuse.
Those figures contrast to the drug related deaths reported in Blackford County in past years. A total of six persons from Blackford County Ð two each in 2013, 2014 and in 2015 Ð died due to drug abuse.
In 2016, five of the seven drug related deaths were females, with four of those women age 50 or older.
Three deaths involved heroin. An array of other drugs contributed to the deaths, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, diaphenhydramine, fentanyl, oxymorophine, morophine, among others.
In 2015, Blackford County had the highest Hep C rate per capita, and in 2016, the county had the highest number of heroin overdoses in the state, per capita.
Those figures helped jolt local officials into immediate action.
The health department began hosting various Community Partner meetings and plan to continue to meet quarterly to address issues associated with substance abuse.
Skidmore noted last fall that she was amazed at the participation level by others in the community. A meeting held in October had more than 50 representatives from local and county law enforcement, court and fire officials, city and county government, Meridian Services, state and county health officials, IU Blackford Hospital, the county schools, Department of Child Services as well representatives from various substance abuse support groups in attendance.
It was during this meeting that Skidmore was able to announce the county had been awarded the grant monies from the state.
She noted that there were a lot of $25,000 such grants awarded to other health departments throughout the state, but Blackford County was the only department in the state to receive the $50,000.
Skidmore credited a lot of hard work and dedication by her staff to be proactive in the fight against the growing substance abuse problem in the county.
Figures for 2017 have not yet been released.