Pandemic fuels Indiana’s drug epidemic; overdoses spike

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COLUMBUS, Ind. — Nearly 2 years into the pandemic, Indiana is navigating a new normal, especially for Hoosiers struggling with addiction and recovery.

The shutdown led to isolation and a lack of recovery tools during an already mounting drug epidemic, statewide. New numbers show just how the pandemic shifted this fight.

In 2019, the CDC reported 1,704 overdoses in Indiana; in 2020, the agency reported 2,268 overdoses, statewide, which the agency says is a 33 percent increase.

The numbers are climbing in 2021, most harshly in Central Indiana.

Emily Bailey, 26, is a Columbus mother of 2, wife, and a Hoosier in recovery. She knows firsthand the fight against the state’s opioid and drug epidemic.

You’re just not thinking about it. So it’s only an escape for a minute though, and whenever you sober up, it’s still all right there. You still– you’re going to deal with it again so you’re going to get high again, but now you’re getting high because you will get sick.

Emily Bailey, Columbus woman in recovery

That’s the start of addiction.

Heroin, meth, prescription drugs, you name it, by 15-years-old, Bailey was trying it all.

“It was the depression,” she described when talking about why she used. “I was trying to escape how I felt at the time, you know, that self pity…”

For nearly 10 years, Bailey was shooting up, swallowing pills until one afternoon she wasn’t.

“I can think back to that time (when I overdosed), and I can see my 2-year-old screaming at me on the floor. I see that,” the young mother recalls.

Bailey’s husband unexpectedly came home for lunch and found an overdosed wife, and a helpless toddler.

The 26-year-old described that time in her life as, “…a living hell being on drugs for me.”

Thousands of Hoosiers face this same reality, and in the pandemic, thousands more have overdosed and died.

FOX59 asked Mental Health of America of Indiana to team up on this questionnaire to help identify if you or a loved one may need to discuss substance addiction and treatment. You can take it below.

The Indiana Department of Health found there was a 41 percent increase in overdoses in 2020 compared to 2019, most of that happened in Central Indiana.

Hendricks, Marion, and Hancock counties saw anywhere between 50 to 145 percent increases in deadly overdoes.

IUPUI psychology associate professor, Melissa Cyders is studying these new, deadly drug trends.

“Having the pandemic coincide with the opioid epidemic has really created a perfect storm for people who are in treatment, who have not yet entered treatment, or who are in longer stages of recovery from opioid use disorder,” she explained.

Cyders is also a researcher with the state’s campaign, The Grand Challenge, which studies opioid addiction and recovery.

She found newer pandemic resources, like tele health, benefited some Hoosiers who are facing addiction and can now access care and connection 24/7. But not every Hoosier found tele health to be enough.

“The individuals who are struggling with increased mental health difficulties during this time showed trends of increasing substance use later on,” Cyders said. “If substances are available and a person is isolated, it becomes a really big risk factor.”

Indiana’s Drug Czar, Douglas Huntsinger tells FOX59 one specific drug is adding to the risk.

“Just 0.25 milligrams of Fentanyl is enough to be a lethal overdose. And we’re finding it, not just in opioids, but also in stimulants, methamphetamines being laced into cocaine, and also being pressed into pills— extremely lethal,” he detailed.

Huntsinger says nearly every deadly overdose in Indiana during the pandemic included fentanyl, a synthetic opioid; he’s now equipping Indiana to fight it and the drug trade.

“Indiana was one of the first states in the country to fund Naloxone for EMS. And that’s first and foremost, if we can– the earlier that we can reverse that overdose, the better chance of survival,” the drug czar detailed.

State and local officials are also working to assist in pandemic recovery through new investments, including $1.7 million to organizations fighting the drug epidemic. Recovery Café in downtown Indianapolis was among the recipients of Governor Holcomb’s new funding.


Web exclusive interview: Recovery Café Indy is a community for people in all types of recovery


As with thousands of Hoosiers, Bailey fights for survival and her sobriety every day.

Asked if she currently faces temptation, she answered, “Yeah I face temptation today. Yeah every day.”

The Columbus native later described what that temptation can be, and, “it looks like neighbors that aren’t doing the right things… I mean there are still times, like getting on the interstate, it’s a trigger sometimes (to use again).”

She’s found ways to cope, among them her newborn baby girl, Raylynn, her eldest daughter, Ayva whose now in Kindergarten, and her husband. Nearly 3 years of sobriety is a testament to her journey.

“Your worst day clean is better than your best day high,” she smiles. “There’s life after dope. There’s life after dope.”

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