Anti drug, tobacco workers react to Indiana’s death toll

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Workers out to stop Hoosiers from using harmful drugs and tobacco products said they're not surprised by the amount of deaths the substances have caused.

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation released a report finding that 14,200 people in Indiana lost their lives in 2017 from the opioid and tobacco epidemics.

Of the deaths, 1,700 were linked to drug overdoes, with the majority of them from opioid misuse.

The State of Indiana's website NextLevel Recovery reported the state has 1,118 deaths due to opioids last year and 757 in 2016.

The foundation said the number has risen by 75 percent since 2011.

The executive director at Drug Free Marion County said there may be good news on the issue. As numbers so far for 2018 show overdoses have leveled off and may actually come down when the data comes out at the end of the year.

However, the synthetic drug Fentanyl has caused numbers to remain high.

"That’s sort of the new trend that is hitting the streets," said Randy Miller with Drug Free Marion County. "It's more and more stuff with Fentanyl and is much more potent and deadly than heroin and the opiates we were seeing three or four years ago."

With regards to tobacco, the foundation said smoking and secondhand smoking killed 12,500 Hoosiers. The smoking rate for Indiana is one of the 10 highest in the country.

"I’ve been doing tobacco treatment for 21 years and all 21 years, Indiana has always been in the top 10 highest adult smoking prevalence," said Debi Hudson, a tobacco treatment specialist at the IU Simon Cancer Center.

Miller added cigarette usage among young people appears to be down, but vaping continues to be popular.

Hudson said the state hasn't seen a dip in the smoking rate since 2013 and thought funding played the biggest role helping Hoosiers quit and wants funding to increase.

November is not only Lung Cancer Awareness Month, but also the Great American Smoke Out, held the Thursday before Thanksgiving.

The foundation said the epidemic is costing the state $12.6 billion annually in healthcare, lost productivity and other economic damages.

"Even if we turn the corner on overdose deaths, which is a great thing - less people are dying -that doesn’t factor in the amount of folks whose lives are still being ruined by opioids or some other drug," said Miller.

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