HANCOCK COUNTY — Sheriff’s deputies recently had to use three doses of Narcan to revive a person who had overdosed. The family told the deputies the person had ingested cocaine, but there was also evidence of heroin at the scene, a report stated.
It’s hard to say whether the person whose life was saved will ever break the cycle of addiction or end up as a statistic, but officials say they will continue to fight the ongoing scourge of drug addiction and promote recovery as best they can.
In recognition of that effort, officials with The Landing Place, 18 W. South Street, will be host for the seventh annual Recovery Walk on Saturday, Sept. 25. The event, which opens for registration around 8:30 a.m., will be on the Courthouse Plaza in downtown Greenfield. It will include speakers, resource/informational booths, music and more. The opening ceremony will take place at 10 a.m., with the walk set to start at 10:30.
The event historically has paid tribute to one person who lost their life to addiction, serving as something of a memorial that highlights and humanizes the toll of drug abuse. This year, organizers plan to celebrate the lives of five people: Trevor Cupp, who died Feb. 27 of this year; Michael Pavich, who died Nov. 3, 2020; Matthew Thomas, who died Oct. 19, 2019; Greg Truscott, who died Oct. 22, 2019; and Jasmine Wethington, who died Feb. 18, 2017.
The toll is growing. Indiana reported a 33% increase in fatal overdoses from 2019 to 2020, according to data released in late July by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to data from the Hancock County coroner, 11 people died from accidental overdoses in 2019. The number rose to 14 in 2020.
The county is on pace to eclipse that total in 2021.
By sharing the stories of five county residents, advocates hope to sharpen the focus on the need for support, said Linda Ostewig, director of The Landing Place, which offers programs and support to those battling addiction and other problems.
“Too many have passed,” Ostewig said. “We’re losing people to this drug epidemic. Even before the pandemic, we had a drug epidemic.”
Ostewig said each of the people to be featured in the tributes will have a family representative present to say something positive about their loved one to let others know there was more to them than their drug addiction.
Those who help people with addictions want people battling drug issues and the community as a whole to understand there are treatment measures and that they’re also working hard to change the stigma surrounding addiction.
“So many people still think drug addiction is not a disease and that these people are making a choice, or it’s a moral issue and that creates a divided line with people,” Ostewig said. “There is a disease of addiction, and people need to understand that.”
Ostewig and others who combat the issue are trying to swing the narrative and help people know there is hope through recovery.
“Our county is doing some shifting,” she said.
The thinking includes things like the creation of a Recovery Cafe at The Landing Place, which will support people on their road of recovery. The cafe, designed to be a place where people can connect with help in the recovery community, will open this fall.
“We’re going to honor those who have passed, but this year with the Recovery Walk, we’re going to focus on people who are living in recovery,” Ostewig said. “You can live a great life in recovery.”
Organizers plan to have a student and woman who’ve both been successful in recovery to speak at the Recovery Walk ceremony.
Judge Scott Sirk oversees the county’s Drug Court program in Hancock County Circuit Court. He will attend the event and participate in the walk. Sirk thinks it’s important to have events bringing exposure to drug-related issues and said Ostewig is a “true hero” in the recovery community.
“I think it is a great event for our community,” Sirk said. “We are remembering precious lives lost to addiction and encouraging all people to engage in recovery as well as recognizing the fact every life is precious with loved ones left behind in their grief.”
County Prosecutor Brent Eaton is the board president for The Landing Place and strongly supports the Recovery Walk each year.
“Do I think we’re making a difference? You’re dang right I do,” Eaton said.
Unlike neighboring counties such as Marion County, which has stopped prosecuting some drug crimes, like those for marijuana, local officials will continue to file cases.
“We will continue to be aggressive and file cases accurately and in a timely manner without exception,” Eaton said. “That’s an important piece. We’re going to continue to prosecute and hold people accountable. Letting things slide is something you don’t do.”
Eaton can’t help but repeat his motto that society is better as a whole when people operate without intoxication.
“Recovery and sobriety, that’s good for public safety,” Eaton said. “We’re seeing some good results with some young people, and that’s encouraging.”
Part of changing the narrative in the county is having strong recovery programs through the jail and the courts.
“We have to be able to provide tools for people who are committed to changing their life,” Eaton said.
Eaton, who will take part in the walk, has also volunteered once again to sit as a target in the dunk tank that will be on display. His only hope is organizers have cleaner water in the tank than they did last year.