Deb Lambert is CEO of Byron Health Center and a member of the executive board of the Fort Wayne Allen County Board of Health.
First, I would like to congratulate Mayor Tom Henry and the Allen County Commissioners for joining the class-action lawsuit against the various entities involved in creating and sustaining the current opiate crisis.
As I speak with individuals about this issue, they ask why we would engage in such a suit. After all, we all make our own personal choices. While this is true, this situation is comparable to the tobacco lawsuit filed years ago. Like tobacco, the manufacturers and distributors of opiates knew about the addictive nature of their product. The manufacturers not only withheld from medical professionals just how addictive opiates can be to those who need pain relief, but they actually claimed there were no addictive issues and they should feel free to prescribe these medications without hesitation. The distributors had regulations governing the reporting of unusually large distributions of these medications. Rather than follow the regulations, they discovered a way to work around their responsibility to report unusually high activity.
As a result, we are at the beginning of what will likely be the most significant and costly public health issue we have faced as a community, state and nation in decades.
Second, I would like to thank the staff at the Fort Wayne Allen County Department of Health for their leadership in our community as this crisis continues to escalate. I have the privilege to serve on the board of the Department of Health and have been frightened by the statistics as this crisis seems to worsen by the month. This issue does not just affect the addict. It affects their spouse, children, workplace (50 percent of those who have died of an opiate- related overdose this year have been working white males in their 40s), law enforcement and first responders. Our Department of Health team members have been on the front lines of researching best practices throughout the country to ensure Allen County is on the cutting edge of acute intervention for this crisis.
Third, I would like to thank the following entities that are on the front line dealing with this crisis everyday:
• The opiate task force members who have been diligently working to build the infrastructure necessary to improve access to care.
• Both the Fort Wayne Police Department and Allen County Sheriff's Department for their tireless pursuit to rid our community of illegal drugs.
• The judicial system, including the prosecutor's office, for realizing we cannot arrest our way out of this issue and working with state officials to find a better solution.
• The other various agencies that have become the entry point for treatment in our community: The Lutheran Foundation, Park Center, The Bowen Center and Parkview Behavioral Health, as well as so many more groups and individuals not listed here. All are part of a team of dedicated, passionate individuals working together to find a solution.
• The Board of the Department of Health along with the commissioners, who had the courage to make some uncomfortable decisions on behalf of our community in the early stages of this epidemic.
You are working with, living next to and/or having coffee with either an opiate addict or someone who has a family member who is addicted. While citizens go about their daily routines, so many people are focused on finding solutions and working diligently to make a difference in the lives of the citizens of Allen County.
What is our call to action as a community?
• When police ask for our assistance to solve drug-related crimes, help them.
• When treatment centers need our assistance to identify locations for long-term treatment centers, support them.
• When an addict confides in you their addiction, support them.
• But most importantly, become educated on what this crisis truly is doing to our community.
Because one thing has become very obvious to me with this crisis thus far – an addiction to opioids can happen to anyone, even you and me.