Ceremony to mark overdose awareness

The Jackson County Drug-Free Council meets once a month, and there’s little doubt that Tuesday’s wave of at least 17 heroin overdoses in Jackson and Jennings counties will not be brought up at the next meeting.

“I’m sure it will be discussed,” coalition director Brenda Turner said Wednesday.

Turner said she found the outbreak of heroin overdoses that left one person dead in Jennings County alarming.

“… My hope is that people have heard about this and will be less likely to use heroin right now because of the possibility it could be laced with something,” she said.

Police believe heroin that caused the overdose was laced with carfentanil, which is a tranquilizer used by veterinarians on large animals. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl. Both are synthetic opioids used to cut heroin, but fentanyl can be used for cancer patients.

Although no deaths form heroin were reported Tuesday in Jackson County, there have been five heroin overdose deaths here this year. There were two in 2015 and none the previous two years.

While the number of heroin overdoses in the county is only seven, an average of nearly 13 deaths a year are from drug overdoses.

In 2015, 14 people, age 20 to 66, died of drug overdoses in Jackson County, coroner Roger Wheeler said. In 2014, that number was 16, ranging in age from 19 to 61. In 2013, there were eight drug overdoses in the county.

Turner said if spreading awareness about heroin laced with carfentanil or fentanyl saves one life, it will be worth it.

Spreading the word about the problems with drug use is one of the council’s three ways it tries to prevent and reduce drug abuse in the county.

One of the ways the council tries to increase public awareness is through a candle-lighting ceremony to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. This year’s ceremony is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at One Chamber Square, 101 S. Chestnut St. in Seymour. Elaine Beaman will be the guest speaker and plans to share her story of family overdose, personal trials and prevention message.

The candle-lighting ceremony is designed to remember the casualties of overdose and to allow participants to stand alongside the friends and families of fatal overdose victims. International Overdose Awareness Day, conducted since 2001, is organized by the Penington Institute.

Turner said heroin usage is nothing new.

“It’s been around for a long time,” she said. “We’ve had people treated for it, but not the deaths.”

The council was established in 1989 through the Governor’s Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana with the mission of ending drug abuse. Each county has a council and receives funding from the fees people convicted of drug crimes must pay.

The money, which had $33,398.88 to distribute in 2015, is given in grants to treatment centers; schools; police departments; hospitals; the Girls Inc. for its Friendly PEERsuasion program, delivered to all middle school health classes; the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center; and other agencies that deal with drug-addiction issues.

Turner said the council also sits down once a year to do an annual assessment of the needs and problems of the community, the failures and if the council’s goals have been met.

One of those goals is identifying youth and adults who misuse or abuse drugs. A copy of the council’s 44-page comprehensive plan, approved June 7 by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, is available at drugfreecouncil.org.

The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute has to approve one of the council’s projects before county commissioners can release the funds. Turner is the one paid member of the council, and she works part-time.

The council’s membership includes representatives from police departments, Schneck Medical Center, treatment centers and others.

“Generally, we hear about what’s going on in the community,” she said. “It’s a networking opportunity. We tend to get caught up in our own little worlds.”

That networking is the third purpose of the council, she said.

Council meetings, conducted at 4 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Community Foundation of Jackson County’s office in Seymour, are open to the public.

At a glance

What: Candle-lighting ceremony to raise public awareness issues about drug overdose and to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, sponsored by the Jackson County Drug-Free Council

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: One Chamber Square, 101 S. Chestnut St., Seymour

Guest speaker: Elaine Beaman plans to share her story of family overdose, personal trials and prevention message

Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.