Since at least 1999, when opioids began to be prescribed at a high rate, the United States has been gripped by the major public health crisis that is opioid use and overdose. This epidemic of prescription and illegal opioids has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and had an impact on countless more. According to statistics from the CDC, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and of the 70,200 recorded drug overdose deaths in 2017, around 68% involved an opioid.
The opioid crisis has hit many Midwestern states particularly hard, and Indiana is no exception. The State Department of Health reports that in 2017, Indiana had a drug overdose rate of 29.4 deaths per 100,000 people, it’s highest rate ever. This put our state in 14th place in the nation for most drug overdose deaths, with a greater year-to-year increase in overdose rates than any other state except New Jersey and Nebraska.
In response, Indiana governor Eric J. Holcomb has stressed the importance of helping individuals who suffer from substance use disorder as well as understanding the nature of their disease:
“Substance use impacts our family, friends and neighbors. That’s why continuing to help more people enter recovery will always remain a top priority. The more we know about the ways it affects people, the better equipped we’ll be to avoid dependence or support someone you love.”
To this end, the Indiana State Museum is opening a new exhibit called “FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis.” A collaboration between the State Museum and more than 50 community partners across Indiana, the exhibit will explore the many faces of this crisis that affects all Hoosiers, ultimately aiming to build empathy and reduce stigma surrounding opioid use disorder.
Cummins’ Carman Allen, a Certified Recovery Specialist with a Substance Abuse Endorsement, is contributing her personal story of addiction and recovery to one portion of the upcoming exhibit. We spoke with Carman to learn more about her contribution and what to expect from FIX when it opens on February 1st.
Viewing the Opioid Crisis through a Personal Lens
For Carman Allen, the opioid epidemic is a crisis with very personal stakes. “Part of my history includes opiates and other drugs,” she says. Today, she leverages her own experiences to help others who struggle with substance use, co-facilitating Intensive Outpatient Therapy groups at Cummins and serving on the Board of Directors for the Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition. As such, she is able to speak about substance use disorder from the perspective of both a behavioral health provider and a person who is in recovery.
This made her a perfect choice for a part of the Indiana State Museum’s exhibit that focuses on the stories of individuals in recovery from substance use. “I was at an event for Cummins, and I ended up meeting someone from the State Museum,” Carman explains. “She talked about this exhibit and how the museum wanted to take a bold voice to the community about the opioid epidemic, and I was invited to do an interview. The whole idea is to give an up-close-and-personal view of people that are recovering and what that looks like in the community.”
Carman’s interview will be shown alongside others in the exhibit at special video kiosks, providing a glimpse into the recovery stories of real people who have survived opioid dependence. She believes her contribution, and the contributions of others like her, will help the public see individuals with substance use disorder as real people and inspire the hope of recovery for those who are still suffering. Carman says,
“I was so grateful that it gave me liberty not only to share about my addiction and recovery, but also to focus on how, for me, that was a co-occurring disorder. It allowed me to not just say, ‘I started using drugs and this is what happened.’ It allowed me to create a picture, so to speak.
I really do believe that recovery is real, and I believe that it is possible for everybody. And it’s no longer connected with just one type of person or a couple types of people. This is something that is affecting our whole community, our whole state, our whole country. And I think that the more we can put a face on it and bring awareness to it, the better, even for people that still might be suffering. They might see it, and that could spark hope.”
What to Expect from the Full State Museum Exhibit
In addition to stories of recovery like Carman’s, the FIX exhibit will include many ways for attendees to learn about the history and scope of the opioid crisis. “The exhibit is about building awareness, decreasing stigma, empowering the community with education, and showing what it looks like to be in the process of recovery,” Carman says.
In the exhibit, visitors will also be able to:
- Explore the science behind opioid use disorder and cravings, and walk inside a giant fabric brain.
- Hear true stories of recovery in video kiosks.
- Experience art created in response to the crisis, including photography of what recovery can and does look like by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bill Foley.
- Get up-close with artifacts from similar health crises in the past, and find out how what we learned then could help us today.
- Engage in stress-reducing exercises such as a worry shredder, calming table or “recovery yoga” which can help everyone—not just those in recovery.
- Find ways to affect positive change in this crisis and explore resources provided by community partners.
Along with the exhibit in Indianapolis, programs addressing the crisis will take place at the museum in Indianapolis as well as the 11 historic sites around the state, utilizing the help of community partners. The programming will extend beyond the run of the exhibit, for as long as the communities see a need for it.
These programs will include:
- Courageous Conversations: A forum featuring different community members from around the state who will speak about their ties to the crisis and open a discussion for all to participate.
- “Love Over Dose”: A play from Young Actors Theatre written by teens, for teens about a teenager who overdoses—and leaves close friends and family to decide whether to follow in her footsteps or make positive changes.
- “One Choice Changes Everything”: A program featuring a CVS pharmacist who speaks to teens and their families about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and answers questions.
- Daily engagement throughout the run of the exhibit, including music therapy, art therapy, community conversations, hands-on activities and more.
“FIX” opens at the Indiana State Museum in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, February 1st and will remain open until February 7th, 2021. We encourage anyone who cares about the health of our community and our state to find some time to explore the exhibit.
For Carman Allen, initiatives like the FIX exhibit show that the tide is changing in our country’s decades-long battle with opioid use and overdose: “The doors have been opened to walk through and to keep reminding people that recovery and healing is real. But it is a journey, because we don’t arrive. Recovery is not a destination; it is absolutely a journey.”
If you’d like to learn more about substance use disorder and how Cummins can help those who suffer with it, we suggest reading our blog post with Tracy Waible, our Director of Recovery Services!