How to save a life: Hoosiers respond with lifesaving resources during the opioid epidemic


Imagine the reassurance of having a medical treatment in your bag or cabinet that could save a loved one or a neighbor. 

According to the Indiana University Office of Research, more Hoosiers are killed by drug overdoses than car crashes. Opioids, a class of drugs primarily used to alleviate pain, account for almost 80 percent of overdose deaths reported in Indiana in 2021. With nearly half a million Indiana residents meeting the criteria for substance use disorder—a complex medical condition that results in an inability to control the use of a drug or medication—finding effective solutions is a growing public health priority.

In an effort to prevent opioid-related deaths, the nonprofit ShipHappens is on a mission to get as much naloxone into the hands of as many as possible, empowering Indiana residents to reduce deaths from opioids at a time when the rate of death from overdoses has hit a record high. Established before the COVID-19 pandemic, ShipHappens leverages a technological infrastructure as the only Indiana-based nonprofit specializing in mail-based distribution of harm reduction supplies, including naloxone—the opioid overdose reversal medication.

How naloxone works:

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, naloxone is a safe medicine that reverses and blocks the effects of opioids. It comes in the form of an injectable liquid or nasal spray, and it is not an addictive substance. Organizations like ShipHappens offer free training on how to identify an opioid overdose and administer naloxone.

“When accessible, naloxone can save lives every day, all day,” said Antonia Sawyer, founder of ShipHappens. Sawyer strives to reduce drug-related health and social harms for Indiana residents through the organization by creating zero-barrier access to overdose and disease prevention resources for people who use drugs, their families, and their communities.

In 2015, the Indiana Department of Health launched the community-based naloxone distribution program, but dozens of counties have not accessed this program due to challenges related to administration, distribution, and stigma. ShipHappens extends this resource across the state to ensure that anyone who needs naloxone can receive it. 

Through a partnership between ShipHappens and the IU Center for Rural Engagement, thousands of naloxone kits were distributed across the Hoosier state.  In 2021, the initiative reached 72 of Indiana’s 92 counties with the help of a grant from Women’s Philanthropy at Indiana University.

“To have the Women’s Philanthropy funding come in off the heels of COVID from 2021 to 2022, that was really impactful, because it came at a time when we were experiencing a naloxone shortage within the harm reduction community. So getting extra funds to be able to purchase much needed naloxone was divine intervention, really,” said Sawyer.

Though the potent opioid fentanyl is in the spotlight as a cause of increased overdoses, Sawyer knows that criminalization and stigmathe negative perceptions and discrimination towards people with substance use disorderis also deadly.

“People are afraid to come forward and say that they have substance use disorder. People without access to confidential mail-based services may not otherwise get access to safe use supplies or naloxone because they do not want to go to the local health department. They do not want to be seen at the pharmacy to get naloxone if that is the only place they can access it in their community.” 

That is why Sawyer has collaborated with communities to create and deliver stigma and harm reduction education, working on increasing empathy and inclusion of this frequently marginalized population. She is also a partner in the Indiana Rural Opioid Consortium’s efforts to reduce the negative impacts of opioid use, which include naloxone distribution and stigma reduction.

Because of ShipHappens, I get to call my best friend and hear his voice. Because of ShipHappens, several of my close friends and even more strangers got to spend the holidays with their families. Because of ShipHappens, countless people all over the country have other opportunities to work towards sobriety and prove that addiction can be overcome.

anonymous naloxone recipient

If you or a loved one need safe use supplies or naloxone, contact ShipHappens at

The IU Center for Rural Engagement improves the lives of Hoosiers through collaborative initiatives that discover and deploy scalable and flexible solutions to common challenges facing rural communities. Working in full-spectrum community innovation through research, community-engaged teaching and student service, the center builds vision, harnesses assets and cultivates sustainable leadership structures within the communities with which it engages to ensure long-term success.