Opiate crisis impacting Fort Wayne workforce

(WANE Photo)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Allen County has taken several steps to address the opiate crisis sweeping the nation. The Health Department opened a needle exchange program to help prevent the spread of diseases contracted by sharing needles like HIV and hepatitis C.

Police and firefighters have also started carrying Narcan, the opiate reversal drug.

Greater Fort Wayne Inc. hosted a panel Wednesday to talk about the community’s response to the opiate crisis in Allen County. The discussion was not open to the public, but was open to Greater Fort Wayne Inc. investors.

Members of the panel included Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan, Fort Wayne Police Captain Kevin Hunter and Lutheran Foundation’s Marcia Haaff.

Police and county health officials believe about 39,000 people are addicted in Allen County.

U.S. health officials estimate 75 percent of the nearly 21 million people affected by opiate addiction, including family members of addicts, are part of the workforce. The Indiana Attorney General’s office reported 80 percent of Hoosier employers have spotted signs of prescription drug abuse in the work place. The Department of Health and Human Services said the crisis costs businesses $12 billion each year.

In fact, the Allen County Health Department looked at every overdose death from 2008 to 2015. It found white, male, employed individuals were predominately the victims of deadly overdoses.

“It’s most definitely affecting the workplace in the area,” FWPD Capt. Kevin Hunter said.

Fort Wayne is experiencing a lot of momentum. This epidemic could hurt that momentum, but Greater Fort Wayne Inc. said its investors want to be part of the solution.

“It allows our business community to be a part of the solution, look at their policies, look at ways to provide employee assistance programs in the workplaces and just to raise that awareness that this crosses all boundaries,” Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Vice President Cheri Becker said.

FWPD just got numbers back for overdoses in July. They said they responded to 153 overdoses in July. So far 55 people have died of a drug overdose in 2017, but 33 cases are still pending awaiting toxicology reports.

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