STATEWIDE — If you remember the opioid crisis that swept through Indiana in the late 2010s, you remember many Hoosiers who suffered at center stage of the crisis from overdoses on opioids as well as struggled with addiction to opioids.

Now nearly two years removed from the worst of the COVID pandemic, experts say that even though drug addiction to a backseat to COVID in the last three years, it has not gone away as a problem for many Hoosiers.

“We have a large recovery population here in Indiana,” said Darrius Brannon with the Recovery Center of Indianapolis. “We still have many people suffering in silence. Addiction is a disease. It has nothing to do with your moral fortitude. It’s a disease that is chronic, progressive.”

Brannon, a recovering addict himself, tells Indy Politics that the opioid crisis, in a way, helped shed light on some of the stigmas surrounding addiction in order to reshape how people view it.

“People are much more willing to accept that it’s a disease rather than a moral failing or a criminal justice problem,” Brannon said. “The COVID pandemic kind of exacerbated the problem of addiction because people were isolating and addiction is a disease of isolation.”

September is recognized within the community of recovering addicts as National Recovery Month, a campaign to raise awareness of drug addiction and how people can recognize and then help people struggling with addiction.

Looking ahead as more states push to legalize marijuana, which by many accounts is known as a “gateway drug”, Brannon is indifferent to the notion.

“Legalizing marijuana, it makes an individual with a substance abuse disorder to rationalize it. ‘It’s legal’,” he said. “They can rationalize it all they want, but if you have a problem you have a problem whether it’s legal or not.”

Brannon said that approach extends to alcohol and tobacco as well.