Local health experts say the opioid crisis raging across Indiana is likely to get worse before it can get better.

There were 16 reported nonfatal emergency room visits due to opioids in Monroe County in 2009, according to data from the Indiana State Department of Health. That figure has climbed each year. In 2015, there were 56 ER visits due to opioids. Six people died.

The numbers are staggering, and continue.

In June, 10 overdoses were reported in a 24-hour period. Some were due to a tainted batch of heroin, while others were the result of using synthetic marijuana, called Spice. A 29-year-old woman's death on June 22 at a friend's apartment is believed to have been heroin related. She leaves behind four young children. The following weekend, Bloomington police officers converged on a section of East Kirkwood Avenue in downtown nine times to deal with suspected overdoses near a site where transients were gathering.

The following weeks would see dozens more overdose calls, while the encampment of people along Kirkwood dispersed to different spots around town.

To combat the opioid epidemic in Monroe County, county government officials have planned a South Central Opioid and Prescription Drug Misuse Summit for Sept. 28.

The state has also taken notice of Bloomington's plight in dealing with opioid drugs.

Just days ago, on July 5, it was announced that a methadone clinic — an opioid treatment center — is expected to open in Bloomington by June 30, 2018. The clinic will be managed by Limestone Health, an affiliate of behavioral-health hospital Sycamore Springs.

Not a new problem

The recent string of highly visible overdoses in public and efforts to combat the opioid epidemic only highlight a problem that already had been here for years.

In response, the nonprofit group Indiana Recovery Alliance started a needle exchange to provide clean needles to users and stop the spread of hepatitis C, a viral infection easily spread by contact with contaminated blood, such as through a shared needle or other drug paraphernalia.

Before the emergency designation by the state health department, doses of naloxone were made available to first responders, drug users and their family members by the Indiana Recovery Alliance. Thousands of doses of the life-saving drug that reverses the effects of opioids to pull someone back during an overdose have been made available, and used, since February 2015.

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