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MICHIGAN CITY — "What was addiction like?" Richard Littlefield asked.

"Imagine having a bag over your head and oxygen was your drug. You're going to do whatever you can to get more."

The Valparaiso man was describing the experience of addiction from someone who's been through it. He was among the variety of voices at a recent forum here putting words to the drug epidemic that regularly takes the lives of Northwest Indiana residents.

The "Recovery, Relapse & Resilience Across the Region" conference earlier this month at Blue Chip Hotel & Casino featured speakers from a variety of sectors — public health, pharmacology, emergency medicine — all trying to come up with solutions for the deadly addiction crisis. The event started, and ended, with presenters who were in recovery from substance abuse.

"The choices (people) make early in life dictate the rest of their life," said Todd Jadlow, a former Indiana University basketball player who now travels the country speaking about his experience with addiction.

He said he tried alcohol as a kid, then cocaine in college. That drug, he said, "became my inspiration. It became my prize."

He used it throughout his professional basketball career overseas, and while he worked in medical sales.

He kept his life together — until he didn't.

Six years ago, he got four impaired-driving arrests in six months. On the last one, his 2-year-old daughter was in the back of the car. He lost custody of her, and went to prison for two years.

The Kansas man stays sober now, he says, by speaking at more than 200 schools a year and trying to prevent the next generation from succumbing to addiction.

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He said he often thinks back to a quote from his former coach Bobby Knight: "You're only as good as the last game you play."

Jeff Barton, owner of the Custom Dosing pharmacies in Crown Point and Valparaiso, discussed one of the newer methods people are using for getting off drugs: cannabidiol, or CBD oil, the nonpsychoactive, medicinal part of marijuana.

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He said CBD has been found to help people who are addicted to opioids, though not cocaine. He noted that the substance also treats pain, inflammation, anxiety and sleep problems.

"Really the more I read about CBD, I don't know why everyone isn't on it," he said.

One population the state of Indiana is focusing on in its efforts to solve the addiction crisis is pregnant women. Moms in Indiana give birth to babies dependent on opioids at a higher rate than the national average.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, voiced her support at the Michigan City forum for legislation that would require medical providers to ask pregnant women about their drug use. She noted that the state also is getting more drug treatment centers that allow mothers and children to remain together: There are ones currently in Indianapolis and Winchester, and others opening soon in Evansville and Columbus.

"Women who use during pregnancy are three to four times more likely to lose a fetus or infant," she said. Indiana has one of the highest infant-mortality rates in the nation.

But the health care community must make pregnant women who are addicted more comfortable asking for help, Box said. The bill requiring that pregnant women be verbally screened for their drug use outlaws the results from being shared with child protective services. 

"The goal is to have a public health approach, not a punitive approach," Box said.

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.