The sheriff says more than 90 percent of the people in Henry County jail are there because of some drug or alcohol-related problem.
City and town police officers have responded to calls all over the county concerning used hypodermic needles found in alleys and on sidewalks.
Henry County isn’t the only rural community battling drug abuse. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an entire web page dedicated to “Opioid Misuse in Rural America.” (www.usda.gov/topics/opioids).
Michael Dora, the state director for USDA rural development in Indiana, spoke to local elected officials Wednesday during the Henry County Council meeting.
Dora is working to develop a regional, tax-payer supported program in East Central Indiana that will help people addicted to drugs and alcohol take back control of their lives.
Dora provided the county council with statistics from California’s New Leaf Treatment Center that found one in seven people will be affected by addiction in their lifetime.
“It’s very difficult, but we can help these people recover,” Dora said.
Dora said 174 people die each day in the United States from drug overdoses.
To highlight the magnitude of that statistic, that is twice the number of each class of seniors graduating from every Henry County school this weekend, except for New Castle.
“The problem is bigger than opioids,” Dora said.
“We can’t ‘Narcan’ our way out of this,” he added, referring to the drug that emergency responders use to save people who have overdosed on opioids. “We can’t treat or arrest our way out of this ... Detox can’t happen in jail.”
A complex program requires a complex solution.
“The keys will be rebuilding collaboration, community and connection,” Dora said.
Dora said counties around this part of the state are all trying to do separate things to fight the same fight. He hopes to tear down the geographic and political barriers so that the communities can work together.
“We need to create partnerships,” Dora said. “We need to leverage our assets.”
Dora told the Henry County leaders and members of the public in attendance about a new detox center going into Fayette Regional Hospital.
The average detox stay is five to eight days. People need a place to go after that so they can continue recovering, Dora said.
He wants to eventually see an interlocal agreement among all the counties surrounding Fayette County to help build a facility where people addicted to drugs can begin rebuilding their lives.
“It’s an alternative to incarceration,” he said.
Local employers would also need to be on board with the idea to help provide jobs to recovering addicts, Dora said.
The USDA Rural Development State Director told Henry County leaders that similar programs have shown a 90 percent success rate after people have been in the program for a year to 18 months.
Henry County Commissioner Kim Cronk, who is also a former sheriff, said a program like this would be “a win-win for our community.”
“Until we try to find a resolution, our problems aren’t going to get any better,” Cronk said.
Henry County Sheriff Ric McCorkle said this is a start to solving the local drug problem.
“It’s the state realizing that we have to deal with this problem, and incarceration is not the answer,” McCorkle said.
Dora knows that developing a regional program like the one he’s suggesting will take time to create and implement. He hopes getting the word out now to all the counties will get the ball rolling.