The Hoosier state has taken the lead among its peers in battling opioid addiction, Indiana’s governor said, but providing more treatment options and developing strong partnerships within each county are vital for efforts to be successful.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is completing his first year in office, said state efforts on all three fronts of opioid addiction — prevention, treatment and enforcement — has put Indiana on the forefront of the battle, but added that it’s likely the problems seen now don’t reveal the full scope of the crisis.

“We’re probably just seeing the tip of the iceberg, if you go county by county by county, and the ripple effect it has on our courts, jails, hospitals, schools — not to mention most importantly families and the individuals themselves,” the governor said.

“As much as we’ve done to organize ourselves and recognize the problem and discuss ways to best serve those in need, we still have a long way to go.”

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In 2016, more people died in the U.S. from drug overdoses related to opioids (42,249) than from breast cancer (41,070), according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the big problems is how easily people can access opioids. Holcomb said that 236 million opioid prescriptions were issued nationwide in 2016 — enough for every adult for one month.

Treatment options are a priority, the governor said.

“It’s critical to provide more access, closer access to those who are struggling with substance abuse,” he said.

More education in schools — elementary, middle and high — needs to take place, Holcomb said, and having fresh data will be critical in staying current on the crisis.

State takes steps

The governor made the opioid crisis a priority on his administration’s agenda, and he and state officials have taken multiple steps this year to address the problem:

Creation of a new state position, director of substance abuse, prevention and treatment, which is held by Jim McClelland

A state website (in.gov/recovery) that provides information and resources

A strategic plan focused on prevention, treatment and enforcement

A partnership with Indiana University, which is investing $50 million over five years and using its network of resources

A new law that prohibits doctors from issuing first-time prescriptions for patients for more than seven days

Integrating the Indiana Scheduled Prescription Electronic Collection and Tracking (INSPECT) program with health systems across the state so medical professionals can check a patient’s history of being prescribed controlled substances

Funding, partnerships

Holcomb said the state has allocated money toward the opioid addiction problems — about $100 million collectively across agency lines — and hopes to secure more funding that will aid in treatment.

The state is still expecting to receive a $10.9 million federal grant from the 21st Century Cures Act that it was awarded, the governor said.

Holcomb also has applied for a federal waiver to allow the Healthy Indiana Plan to expand treatment services for addiction. The deadline for approval is Jan. 31. If approved, Indiana could receive $55 million to $65 million more to put toward treatment.

“That’s real money for a really important cause,” the governor said.

Money the state receives would be shared with local communities to help their efforts, Holcomb said.

He credited Bartholomew County for addressing opioid addiction head-on through a collaboration of local government, nonprofits and the faith-based community, among other key community stakeholders.

Bartholomew County has experienced a growing number of overdoses, overdose deaths and children removed from homes because of their parents drug abuse.

In response, community stakeholders have created a task force (Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County) to work on the problem, focused on creating a treatment center and conducted multiple public discussions to educate residents about the issue, among other steps.

“We’re all in this thing, so those partnerships are going to be key in the state,” Holcomb said.

Pull Quote

“As much as we’ve done to organize ourselves and recognize the problem and discuss ways to best serve those in need, we still have a long way to go.”

– Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on the opioid addiction problem in the state

Pull Quote

“It’s critical to provide more access, closer access to those who are struggling with substance abuse.”

– Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on the importance of treatment options for opioid addiction

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.