Drug czar shares Holcomb’s drug crisis action plan

By Shelby Mullis

INDIANAPOLIS — Connor and Sean Ryans are just two of thousands of young people across the state who have suffered from an opioid addiction during their lifetime.

But with the help of medical professionals and recovery program, the brothers, and sons of Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, are sober.

“It’s not just I decided taking Vicodin when I was 14,” Sean Ryans said. “It was anxiety, depression, all these issues that I was coping with through the use of drugs and alcohol that I had to address. I couldn’t simply just stop taking something and hope to be a better person, hope to be a functioning member of society.”

Indiana Drug Czar Jim McClellan introduces Gov. Eric Holcomb’s action plan to attack the state’s drug epidemic. McClellan was appointed by Holcomb earlier this year as the state’s drug czar. Photo by Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com

Members of the Commission to Combat Drug Abuse, led by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s appointed drug czar, Jim McClellan, heard testimony from Ziemke’s sons Thursday during the commission’s meeting. They spoke minutes before the force approved the governor’s six-page action plan to attack the state’s drug epidemic.

The plan focuses on reducing the number of people suffering from a substance abuse disorder and the harm it causes, as well as improving the treatment pathways available to patients.

It also aims to develop the role of the executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement to make it more accessible for addicts, families, service providers and government units.

In a recent study released by the Indiana Department of Health earlier this month, health officials said emergency room visits for non-fatal drug overdoses rose by nearly 60 percent in Indiana between 2011 and 2015.

McClelland said the governor’s action plan is meant to help the state its focus on efforts and resources for these addictions and overdoses in a timely response.

“With a problem as big and as complex as this opioid crisis, we need a strategic framework to serve as a guide that describes what we’re ultimately trying to accomplish and how the various pieces are related,” McClelland said.

He said putting a face to the issue, such as the one face by the Ryans, provides a stronger sense of urgency to help Hoosiers stay alive.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said he is very encouraged by the plan, but said a critical part of the plan must be to make sure policy can fit the plan.

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that prohibits local governments from banning employers from making any inquiry about the applicants past criminal record when they initially apply. Additionally, the bill will protect employers who hire employees with a criminal record as long as the crime isn’t directly related to the work they provide for the employer.

Taylor said this “ban the box” legislation does not fit the governor’s action plan, which some say is a way to allow convictions to prevent employment.

“One of the things I hear over and over again is opportunity. I love to hear that, especially for those people who have drug-related felonies,” Taylor said. “We need to become felony-friendly in this state for this plan to work.”

The commission approved the recommendations Thursday. State agency leaders and medical experts also shared presentations at the meeting, including one on the rising cost of naloxone, which can stop an opioid overdose, and another on a $10.9 million grant to expand the state’s efforts in attacking the drug crisis.

As for Sean Ryans and his brother, the two men are taking their own steps to help people standing in similar shoes they were once in.

“I’m helping other people get the same opportunity that I was given. Helping those from small towns like Batesville, where I’m from, get treatment in California and it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” Sean Ryans said. “Every morning, like this one, I see another person who wasn’t so fortunate and it reminds me why I’m doing this — why we’re all here today.”

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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