This is a guest post by Tom Henry, mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
As the second largest city in Indiana, Fort Wayne, is experiencing tremendous momentum, excitement and investments like never before. Fort Wayne has become a destination city, and people across the country are realizing that this is a great place to live, work and play.
Our downtown is being revitalized and our neighborhoods are thriving. We’re retaining and attracting residents and businesses with quality amenities that make us unique.
However, we recognize we have serious challenges that must be addressed. One of the biggest public safety and health challenges I’m now facing as mayor is the drug and opioid epidemic. My colleagues in cities all across the country share this challenge, and like them I’m determined to find a solution.
The data related to local opioid abuse is staggering. In 2016, Fort Wayne had 68 fatal overdoses. The number rose to 127 in 2017. As of July 31, 2018, we’ve had 37 deaths, with 27 additional cases pending toxicology results. Furthermore, there have been nearly 2,600 non-fatal overdoses since 2016. On top of these staggering statistics, the Fort Wayne Police Department has seized record amounts of heroin and fentanyl.
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What can we do to combat an epidemic that not only threatens my city’s future viability, but also the well-being of society in the United States? To me, the first step seemed clear: hold accountable the companies responsible for bringing excess pharmaceuticals into our community.
In Fort Wayne, we’re beginning this process by filing a public nuisance lawsuit against opioid distributors. In part, this would allow for much needed settlement funding for local entities charged with mitigating this national epidemic.
In addition, to help address this crisis in a comprehensive manner, we have launched the Fort Wayne Allen County Task Force for Opioid Strategic Planning. With the support of The Lutheran Foundation and Purdue Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute, we have been developing plans and methods for assisting individuals who are struggling with substance abuse.
In May, the Task Force released a report assessing the community’s needs in four primary areas: prevention, intervention, treatment/recovery, and enforcement.
Finally, through partnerships with the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, and social service and nonprofit agencies across our city and region, we’re continuing efforts to fight this crisis through proactive rehabilitation and prevention measures. We’re also working with officials in our state government to develop effective and compassionate policies to address our community needs.
This epidemic is negatively impacting so many innocent lives. But we know that education, treatment and law enforcement are critical in battling this problem. Cities must reverse this trend in order to remain desirable places to live, work and raise families. The health of our communities and our citizens depend on it.
About the Author: Tom Henry is serving in his third term as mayor of Fort Wayne. Leading Indiana’s second largest city, Mayor Henry is making government the best it can be for residents and businesses by demonstrating a commitment to engagement, innovation, and performance.