pill bottles

What does drug addiction look like?

Substance abuse disorder affects either gender, any race and people of all ages. The Marion County Public Health Department’s new multimedia campaign, “What Are Friends For?” aims to help Indianapolis residents get a better understanding of what opioid addiction looks like, and how they can help themselves and loved ones recover from the disease.

According to Curt Brantingham, public information coordinator for the health department, the department received two grants from the National Association of County and City Health Officials totaling $341,873 for radio, TV and social media advertisements meant to shatter stereotypes about what drug addiction looks like.The advertisements, which began the first week of March, also provide information on Narcan and naloxone, which is used to save individuals who are overdosing. 

During a press conference Feb. 27, Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the health department, said medical professionals today are more likely to use Narcan to revive a patient during an overdose than they are CPR to revive a patient during a heart attack. One of the goals of the multimedia campaign is to not only build empathy regarding drug addiction but to spread the message that Naloxone is accessible to those struggling with substance abuse disorder. 

Thanks to Aaron’s Law — named after 20-year-old Aaron Sims, who died of a heroin overdose in 2013 — Hoosiers who are caretakers of or live with someone addicted to opioids can receive a prescription for Narcan. An individual who administers Narcan will not be charged for possession or practicing medicine without a license, as long as they are not on parole or under the influence of drugs. The law requires anyone who administers the drug to call emergency services.

While a person revived with Narcan or naloxone is not protected against criminal charges, Marion County Sheriff’s Office Captain Mitchell Gore said Marion County residents shouldn’t be concerned about being arrested. The first priority should be getting help. 

“We know that there’s been some rumblings around Central Indiana about charging individuals who receive services after an overdose,” Gore said. “We don’t participate in that. To my knowledge, the Marion County prosecutor’s office wouldn’t charge people like they may in other counties. Marion County residents should rest assured that they can call for help, and it’s not going to result in a criminal case.” 

The opioid epidemic looks different in the Black community. To combat the opioid crisis among African Americans, the health department is working with the religious community to address the stigma and spread information about available resources. 

“Rev. [David] Greene is the president of Concerned Clergy and works with about 35 Black churches, with two of the largest Black churches among them,” Caine said. “They’re talking to their congregations about substance abuse disorder … during service … to help share these commercials but to also generate discussions.”

The health department is also working with organizations such as the Indianapolis Urban League and the Indiana Minority Health Coalition to use the advertisements to spread the message that substance abuse is a treatable disease.

“Substance abuse disorder is a chronic illness,” Caine said. “It requires treatment and can affect any of us … [This campaign] is reminding us what friends are for and how we can reach out to do our part, as a friend, to help our loved ones … find the resources they need to combat substance abuse disorder.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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