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Health department starts new campaign to tackle opioid abuse

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With a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Marion County Public Health Department will tackle the opioid crisis through a new multimedia campaign, “What Are Friends For?”

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the health department, announced plans for the campaign at a press conference Feb. 27. Indianapolis was one of four cities to receive the Integrating Overdose Prevention Strategies at the Local Level, which will raise awareness of resources for substance abuse disorder and how to use Narcan and naloxone.

Starting in March, TV, radio stations and social media platforms will feature advertisements urging people to seek treatment for themselves or their loved ones for substance abuse disorder. One of the strengths of the campaign is it features Indianapolis residents who have personally struggled with substance abuse. By using people who could be your neighbor, the campaign hopes to remove the stigma associated with substance abuse. Instead of shunning those with substance abuse disorder, experts say compassion and understanding is needed to help individuals struggling. 

“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.”

During the press conference, Indianapolis City-County Council President Vop Osili said substance abuse disorder is not a character flaw and there should be more community support for those dealing with substance abuse. To illustrate his point, Osili cited information from the American Cancer Association that there are more Americans struggling with substance abuse than there are Americans fighting all types of cancer combined. 

“There are no races, no colored ribbons, no Go Pink [for substance abuse awareness],” Osili said. “Where are the community and corporate messages of support?” 

While the opioid epidemic looks different in the Black community — African Americans are underrepresented in research, making it difficult to acquire accurate statistics — Caine said the health department is working with local faith leaders to educate the Black community in Indianapolis 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.”

Beyond faith leadership, the health department is working with organizations such as the Indianapolis Urban League and Indiana Minority Health Coalition to spread the message that substance abuse is a treatable disease. 

“It’s up to us to change the narrative,” Caine said of the opioid epidemic. “We are standing up for those who need and deserve our help.”

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

Marion County Public Health Department announced a new multimedia campaign, “What Are Friends For?” to tackle the opioid crisis. (Photo/Breanna Cooper)

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