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MERRILLVILLE — If Dr. Sudhish Chandra wanted his audience to leave the Indian Medical Association of Northwest Indiana’s Child Suicide and Opioid Crisis Prevention Fair with one message, it could be summed up in four letters — ASHA.

Asha is the Hindi word for hope, but the letters also stand for awareness, support, help and action.

Prior to a candlelight vigil Friday at the Indian American Cultural Center, four children holding those letters joined parents of suicide victims onstage. With lights out in the cultural center, participants held luminaries while observing a 30-second moment of silence.

The luminaries had a purple tinge, reflecting mental health awareness.

“This vigil makes us remember what we lost but never forgot,” Chandra, a neonatologist and IMA president, said. “If we all connect tonight, we can tackle this.”

The evening event brought together representatives from the medical, legal, mental health and legislative communities to address child suicide and opioid overdoses.

Noting that opioid abuse and suicide claim 130 lives daily, Chandra said, “Awareness is the key. This event hopes to spread education and bring resources closer to the community.”

Chandra said according to the Indiana Department of Health, 1,852 Hoosiers died from drug overdose in 2017, with about two-thirds of those fatalities due to opioids. Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, fentanyl and pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and cocaine.

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Additional statistics reveal that one in four eighth-graders and one in three seventh-graders in Lake County have seriously considered suicide.

Dr. Vidhya Kora, a LaPorte County commissioner who practices internal medicine in Michigan City, said that for the first time in a century, American life expectancy rates are dropping. Kora attributed these shorter life spans to opioid abuse, depression and suicide.

“As a nation, we need to do better,” Kora said. “Raising awareness is the first step.”

The medical profession is helping, Kora noted. From 2012 to 2017, opioid prescriptions were down 30%, he said.

The program included a panel question-and-answer session, along with personal testimony by three friends and family of suicide victims.

In all three cases, the victims appeared to enjoy a promising life. But as Dr. Lisa Gold, a Crown Point pediatrician, noted, a “dark cloud” came over her son Nolan, who took his own life two years ago. Peggy Easton, a Crown Point registered nurse who lost her son and a brother to suicide, brought a poster bearing this message: “Drugs kill good souls.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2017.

“There are things people need to know,” Easton said. “Let’s work as a family, as a community and change this.”

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