Never Giving Up: Addressing Drug Addiction in Scott County, Indiana

September 4, 2012

What would you do if the county you’d lived in and loved for many decades was ranked the least healthy county in your state for three years running? What if just days after this year’s Rankings release Reuter News Service began investigating why your county has the highest rate of prescription drug deaths in a six county area? This is the situation faced by the people of Scott County, Indiana. It would be understandable if their response was to give up in frustration, but that’s far from the reality.

Located in the beautiful rolling hills of southeastern Indiana, Scott County has suffered from decades of generational poverty with all its associated problems: isolation, depression, poor diet, tobacco use, colorectal cancer, child abuse, teen pregnancy. According to the 2012 County Health Rankings the rate of premature death in Scott County is much higher than the state average. “We die too young here and people don’t feel well,” says Carolyn King, Scott County Health Outcomes Task Chair for the Scott County Partnership. But a passionate group of people from every sector has been working together to turn things around and they’re in it for the long haul. 

“People care deeply here. The level of partnership and collaboration is exceptional,” King said.
Today, besides the Scott County Partnership,  a 40 member coalition called CEASe (Coalition to Eliminate Abuse of Substances of Scott County), a local coordinating council for drug prevention, which includes law enforcement, healthcare, education, community leaders, and others, is addressing the prescription drug abuse problem. CEASe worked with the local hospital and doctors to change prescribing practices. Formerly, people coming to the emergency room could get 10 day prescriptions for pain medication. Now, narcotic prescriptions are only written for 3 days at a time, and doctors are committed to blood level checks and reviewing patients’ prescription use history. Ms. King says, “We’re all on board together around this.” 
Much has been accomplished in spite of limited state and local funding. To promote positive health, the Health Outcomes Task Force started a Facebook site and published “Feeling Good Scott County” describing their numerous health initiatives, including colorectal cancer screening, a community garden, enhancements to the local Farmer’s Market, and replacing deep fat fryers at local schools with healthy options. 
CEASe is addressing strategies around tobacco prevention, underage drinking and the new narcotic prescription policies at the local ER. For example, a local faith-based leader began “New Creation Addiction Ministry” to help former addicts find employment and stay sober. Fortunately, because there is so much activity around these and other issues, some funds are beginning to flow into the community. For example, a local not-for-profit recently received a large grant to address health and educational issues for pregnant and parenting teens. “Because we’re stirring the pot,” says Ms. King, “many agencies are getting grants.” It isn’t going far enough yet, but in the meantime, much has been accomplished simply through the power of people working together on a common vision of a healthier community. “We have much to do to address health disparity due to high poverty, but we are willing to tackle all issues in a creative fashion,” affirms Ms. King. Though change takes time and the annual Rankings results don’t reflect results quickly, Ms. King and the others on her team are encouraged by the way the community is pulling together around health in a positive way.