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Smoking, opioid abuse affect county health outcomes

BY SHARON BARDONNER - sbardonner@ftimes.com

A new survey ranked Clinton County just barely above the lowest quarter of all Indiana’s 92 counties when measuring overal health outcomes related to tobacco use, opioid abuse, obesity and infant mortality.

Nearly 18 percent of adults in Clinton County are smokers, compared to 21 percent in Indiana and 15 percent in the U.S. At 18.4 percent, the prenatal smoking rate here is higher than the overall county average, 22 percent higher than the state rate of 15.1 percent and more than double the 8.4 percent nationally, according to the survey.

“We’re one of those states that has a substantially higher rate of smoking during pregnancy,” said Dr. Paul Halverston, dean and professor of the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health. “Tobacco has a potentially harmful effect on the growing baby by reducing the nutrients going to the baby during critical growth periods. It impacts the oxygenation of the mother, which ultimately impacts the baby.”

Halverston said that smoking during pregnancy often leads to low birth weight and premature birth, which is associated with a number of health complications.

Why is prenatal smoking so common here? Halverston says that misconceptions about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy, particularly among teenagers, may be one reason. He says the high rate of smoking here in general may be another.

To combat this issue, Healthy Communities of Clinton County offers the Baby & Me Tobacco Free program at no cost to pregnant women or those who have recently given birth. A smoker who lives with the pregnant woman, such as her husband, partner or parent, can also enroll.

The free stop smoking program provides counseling support and resources to pregnant and postpartum women so these mothers quit smoking and remain smokefree. Pregnant mothers help themselves and their babies with improved birth outcomes and the long-term positive outcomes for women, children, and their families of living in a smoke-free home.

The program also rewards mothers with diaper vouchers at Walmart and/or local participating stores. 

The survey found Clinton County to have a high rate of non-fatal ER visits due to opioid overdoses, 77.5 percent compared to 35.87 statewide, and opioid prescriptions, too. While the statewide rate of 83.9 percent is higher, Clinton County still must facing having 70 opioid prescriptions per every 100 residents.

Halverston said researchers are finding that smokers have a higher rate of opioid misuse and that efforts to curb tobacco use among youth may help address opioid abuse more generally.

Just as it targets pregnant moms, Healthy Communities also targets local youth with smoke-free promotions such as its annual Kick Butts campaign.

The survey was released by the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, a group comprised of health and business organizations like the Indiana Hospital Association and Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The report highlights Indiana’s high smoking rate as a major cause for concern, but the Indianapolis Business Journal reports that the group is also supporting legislation that would repeal legal protections for smokers.

The Journal reports that GOP state Sen. Liz Brown has introduced a bill that would allow businesses to adopt strict smoking policies that screen new hires for tobacco use to keep health insurance costs down.