EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - New numbers released from an Indianapolis-based foundation which focuses on Hoosiers well-being shows the impact opioids and tobacco use are having across Indiana, including here in the Tri-State.
The data shows more than 14,200 Indiana residents died in 2017 due to opioids or tobacco use. To put that number into perspective, that’s more than those killed in Hurricane Katrina, 9-11, and all motor vehicle accidents in Indiana since 2006 combined.
And it’s costing the state billions of dollars, the study explains, roughly 12.6 billion dollars in health care expenses, lost productivity and other economic damages.
"And all of us are paying for it through our taxes, so we all need to come together and take meaningful steps to address both of these epidemics,” President and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, Claire Fiddian-Green explained.
To confront both the opioid epidemic and tobacco use across Indiana, the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation recently released the two new reports. The organization is recommending that Indiana raise the state’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack and increase the legal smoking age to 21.
“If you can delay the age at which somebody might decide they’re going to try a cigarette, you have a higher likelihood of them not becoming a lifelong smoker,” Fiddian-Green added.
The organization, which provides grants to improve Hoosier’s well-being through education and health initiatives, show a support for harm reduction programs including expanding access to syringe exchanges and safe disposal sites for opioids.
"So that those don’t unintentionally get into the hands of somebody who they were not prescribed for,” Fiddian-Green said.
Earlier this year, Republican leaders in the Indiana House blocked a bill that proposed increasing the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The report also acknowledges a sharp decline since 2011 in the fatal overdoses related to prescription opioids, but notes a rapid rise in the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
According to early data, there were 66 drug overdoses last year in Vanderburgh County ranking them 5th in the state.