WHITLEY COUNTY — Dialogue surrounding addiction has become more commonplace in today’s society. Communities are recognizing the impact that opioid addictions are having on the health and safety of their citizens and realize that action must be taken.

But awareness is only half the battle. Recognizing that action needs to be done, United Way Whitley County is mapping out the next strategic steps through the United Against Opioid Abuse project.

The project is being headed up by Columbia City native and AmeriCorps member Carlee LaRue. The one-year position will see LaRue going past the state and county reported statistics. Through community dialogue, LaRue and United Way hope to determine how exactly the Whitley County community is dealing with its addiction problem.

“People are aware of it, but there’s not a lot of research done on this yet,” LaRue said. “The main goal is to gather the data in Whitley County specifically, but also hosting some community meetings as well to see what the community feels are the biggest issues and capture their voices as citizens and maybe stakeholders.”

In addition to knowing more about how Whitley County fits into the opioid discussion, LaRue would like to see more of this knowledge find its way into school curriculums through programs like the “Say It Straight” assertive communication program.

“This opioid crisis is so new and its really complex to understand,” LaRue said. “One of the things I want to get my hands on is prevention in our youth and (providing) them some evidence-based training.”

The project’s mission also intends to educate the community at large about addiction. Even simple tips, such as teaching people how to properly secure their medications, could make a difference, LaRue said.

Above all, LaRue wants to reinforce the idea that squaring up against this opioid epidemic requires everyone to play their part. In that same thread, United Way wants to send a message to those currently struggling with addiction that they don’t have to face it alone, and that there are resources readily available to them.

“One of my goals is to get agencies talking and working together, and getting the community involved,” LaRue said. “I am in a position dedicated for this epidemic, but it’s not enough for the whole county.”

The prospect of progress is an uplifting one, but LaRue made it clear that this epidemic will not suddenly disappear thanks to a few classes and community meetings. It will require a concerted, long-term effort on the part of everyone in Whitley County.

“I’m hoping there’s some sustainability, that maybe someone in their position comes out for this or that there are people in another agency that want to take it on,” LaRue said. “This epidemic is not going to end next year.”