A digital approach to tackling drug abuse

People looking for help with drug addiction or resources for a loved one have a new place to find treatment and recovery options.

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke unveiled a new website Monday that compiles contact information and descriptions of local resources for people trying to prevent and treat addiction, or just learn more about the causes of substance abuse.

Among other goals, the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force is trying to decrease the demand for illegal drugs, while other policies and law enforcement deal with stemming the supply of those drugs.

“We need to deal with the root causes and make treatment more accessible,” said chairman Dr. William Wooten. Wooten is the founder of Youth First and also spent years treating addiction as a doctor before his retirement.

The Substance Abuse Task Force is a revamped version of the Mayor’s No Meth Task Force, created shortly after Winnecke entered office in 2012. While meth lab seizures have gone down since 2012, drug use continues.

That’s why the new team has a broader mission, looking at ways to deal with heroin and other opiate addiction as well as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. That means involving the entire community, Winnecke said, from educating people about substance use to getting neighborhoods and community groups involved in prevention.

The website is part of that mission, providing details about substance use and mental health, tips for preventing substance abuse and links to local health providers and support groups that are part of the Task Force.

The expanded mission is partly due to the opioid crisis that’s become an increased problem in the Evansville area, Winnecke said. According to Vanderburgh County Coroner Steve Lockyear, 29 people died of heroin or fentanyl overdoses last year in Vanderburgh County, more than four times the number of fatalities in 2015.

“We just can’t turn our heads from it,” Winnecke said.

The mayor hopes the website will be a tool for people who want to help but don’t know where to start.

“They are not out there alone as they try to help a loved one, a neighbor, a coworker,” he said.

The Task Force, made up of 20 members from fields including public health, addiction treatment and law enforcement, also invited author and professor Robert Meyers to Evansville in October to train people on helping loved ones get addiction treatment.

Meyers will be available to train health care workers Oct. 10 through 12 and will also host public presentations Oct. 12 and 13 for people whose loved ones are dealing with addiction.

People can register and learn more about the event on the Task Force’s website.

Wooten said it’s time to destigmatize substance abuse disorders so people suffering from them can get treatment.

“It’s not a moral failure on the part of the individual,” Wooten said. “We need to bring this problem out of the closet and into the public eye and make it easy for people to get the help they need.”

Learn more about the task force and resources available at msatf.org.

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