Skip to main content

Page last updated on September 30, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Greetings and welcome from City Hall!  Thank you Greg May for your kind introduction and to the Monroe County Opioid Advisory Commission, for presenting this third annual South Central Indiana Opioid Summit.  

As mayor, I am heartened and gratified to witness how as a community we have wrapped ourselves around tackling the opioid problem and supporting those rebuilding their lives -- this effort has taken so many partners, from the Monroe County Health Department to IU’s Grand Challenges initiative, Indiana Recovery Alliance, the Community Foundation, the Bloomington Health Foundation, Centerstone, and Monroe County CASA. The Community and Family Resource Department at the City, as you heard from Beverly Calendar-Anderson this morning, the Community Coordinating Council of our Safe, Civil and Just efforts..

And the list goes on:  Amethyst House, New Leaf New Life, Middle Way House, New Hope for Families, the Shalom Community Center, Wheeler Mission, the area’s many treatment centers, social service agencies, public safety officials, mental health professionals, educators, and members of the business community -- all partners who come together with deep concern and constructive solutions.  

And these partners all share our understanding of this challenge as a Health Challenge. Allow me just a few updates on activities. We are gaining traction:  we take heart knowing that the number of overdose deaths in Monroe County has been decreasing over the past couple of years [from a high of 28 in 2017]. Our community’s response to substance use disorder has gained nuance and sensitivity and effectiveness.  The support our community provides those affected ranges from medically assisted treatment to behavioral therapy to harm reduction, including needle exchanges and much more.

And, as this morning’s sessions shared, and the new video powerfully demonstrated, we’re learning how employers can play a key role in offering the chance to rebuild independent, meaningful lives.  Within the City, we’ve witnessed lives transformed through special employment partnerships, like one between our City Parks Department and Centerstone. Because we know that being employed is essential not only to physical, behavioral and occupational rehabilitation but also can be fundamental to restoring one’s sense of dignity. 

At the same time, we’ve been learning a lot about how the public safety and justice system can and should play a positive role -- not a negative one -- in dealing with this health issue. Within the last year, the City has added new personnel to the staff of our Bloomington Police Department and our Community and Family Resources Department:  Staff trained to address needs related to substance use disorder, and offer resources and guidance to preempt escalation of difficult situations into crimes. Bloomington added Downtown Resource Officers to our regular patrol officers five years ago. These officers, who volunteer for this position, are specially trained and detailed to respond to many of the issues related to substance use disorder, poverty, mental illness, and homelessness. 

Our police department is also one of the first across the country in a city our size with a dedicated social worker, new this year. And we also have added two neighborhood resource specialist positions -- not badged officers -- oriented toward helping resolve or avoid situations that should not or need not be handled with a more traditional police response. And we’re one of a handful of American cities to have added an After Hours Ambassador to our ranks, offering a night-time liaison to services and another on-the-ground presence for everyone connecting with our downtown.  We believe that all of these improved touchpoints make for a stronger community, and help people facing challenges meet them more directly and actively, rather than through a traditional police department interaction.

On the judicial side, City and County public safety officials along with providers of mental and behavioral health, and the education and business community have dug into best practices with regard to individuals in behavioral crisis, which often can be related to substance use disorder. We know that the two options usually available in a crisis -- jail or hospitalization -- are inadequate. After site visits, research and consultations, the group is currently pursuing the model of a Crisis Diversion Center.

The task force hosted by and organized with support from our largest private employer, Cook Group, has identified a potential site for a proposed center adjacent to the Monroe County Correctional Center. The crisis center would divert individuals from jail or hospitals to a less expensive and a more appropriate therapeutic alternative -- a “service-based,” individualized program, better able to meet the need of the person in crisis.

The diversion center is modeled after the “twenty-three hour living room program,” focused on peer-support to help lessen stigma and designed to de-escalate situations and treat the person in less than 23 hours while also providing clinical services, medical services, and care coordination when accepted by the person in crisis. This diversion center, with funding still to be finalized, would be staffed 24/7, 365. The City looks forward to partnering with our whole community to find a way to implement this sorely needed component of our justice system.

I’ll end my updates recognizing the toll that substance use disorder and the opioid crisis takes on our neighbors and loved ones. Everyone here, I expect, can bring to mind individual stories close to your heart. We know currently, there are 316 children whose cases have been assigned to Monroe County Court Appointed Special Advocates, the CASA program. 316 kids who need someone to represent their best interests in court because the adults they depended on are no longer able to do so, very often because they are struggling with substance use disorder.

These heartbreaking consequences remind us why the opioid crisis is sometimes called a SYNDEMIC -- a set of intertwined public health problems rooted in similar, social forces, amplifying one another.  And we know the root causes of this crisis are myriad, but one significant catalyst was the voracious and deceptive marketing of pharmaceutical opioids by numerous private companies and the dangerous distribution of those controlled substances by a number of pharmacies. 

Over the last few months, some of these predatory actors, like Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, are beginning to be held responsible for the role they’ve played in devastating communities across the country.  Municipalities, states, universities, and other entities and institutions, and Bloomington and Monroe County among them, have joined in multi-district litigations to seek damages for the destruction these and other companies have wreaked. We hope settlement funds can help us all address the human cost we see around us, and to establish a framework that might serve to prevent any escalation of substance use disorder. Such measures as the Crisis Diversion Center, for example, could conceivably be funded in this way. 

Clearly, we have a long path ahead of us. It’s good to reflect on the progress we’ve made, and identify next steps.  In that process, we look to the advice of others who’ve traveled this same road. We are honored at today’s summit by the presence of so many of you who’ve devoted your lives to this work.  Later today, we’ll hear a keynote from Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice, the Honorable Loretta Rush, who we are honored to have in Bloomington, and who will be introduced later.

But right now,  I have the honor of introducing a luminary in the world of drug policy, Regina LaBelle, the Distinguished Scholar and Program Director of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. Ms. LaBelle manages a project portfolio focused on the opioid epidemic, addiction policies, barriers to treatment for substance use disorders, public health approaches to drug policies and how law can promote access to treatment and support recovery.

Before joining the O’Neill Institute, Ms. LaBelle worked as the Chief of Staff and senior policy advisor in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, working with President Obama to change the ethos of drug policy--” from a punitive approach to a more public-health approach.”  They led an aggressive multi-pronged strategy that increased naloxone availability and boosted prescription drug monitoring programs through legislation--the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act--and channeled almost $100 million in Affordable Care Act funding to health centers around the country grappling with the epidemic. 

In addition, and close to my mayoral heart, Ms. LaBelle previously served as legal counsel to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and taught policy and ethics at the Seattle University Institute for Policy Studies. She received her  BA from Boston College and her JD from Georgetown University. You all should also know, our timing was impeccable, but demanding, because she is doing double duty in town, speaking just before this at the Maurer Law School, so please join me in giving Regina LeBelle a warm and encouraging welcome to our third annual Opioid Summit.