Opioid epidemic gets $50 million treatment

By Makenna Mays
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s opioid crisis has educators and lawmakers proposing cutting edge measures to the combat the growing problem.

Indiana University is investing $50 million in a project to reduce addiction while Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, wants tougher criminal penalties.

Gov. Eric Holcomb speaking at a news conference announcing Indiana University’s $50 million investment in tackling the opioid epidemic.
Photo by Makenna Mays, TheStatehouseFile.com

“We’re attacking this epidemic on all fronts,” said Gov. Eric Holcomb during news conference at the Statehouse Tuesday.

Holcomb is just one of the partners along with IU Health that will be working to establish comprehensive actions on addiction. This aspect of Indiana University’s Grand Challenges program is the largest and most comprehensive short-based response to the opioid crisis.

“By making more strategic use of resources, focusing on critical issues facing the state and working closely with key partners, we hope to achieve a greater impact In Indiana and around the world,” Fred H. Cate, IU vice president for research and distinguished professor, said in a statement.

The goals of this initiative are to reduce death from addiction, ease burden of addiction on Hoosiers, and improve health and epidemic outcomes.

The initiative will focus on five areas:

  • Ground-level data collection and analysis,
  • Training and education,
  • Policy analysis and development,
  • Addictions science, and
  • Community and workforce development.

Drug overdoses in Indiana cost Hoosiers $1 billion annually and fatal drug doses have quadrupled since 1999. When Holcomb took office, one of his top priorities was stopping the drug epidemic in Indiana.

Since Holcomb took office, he has worked to expand the number of treatment centers, given locals the ability and authority to initiate needle exchanges, limited opioid prescriptions and launched the Next Level Recovery website.

“Indiana University’s Grand Challenge is going to go such a long way to help turn the tide against the rise of addiction,” said Holcomb.

Lawmakers are also proposing legislation that would impose stiffer penalties for drug dealers and violent offenders.

Merritt is proposing bills for the 2018 legislative session that would aid law enforcement, protect officers and crack down on drugs and violent crime.

“We have taken steps this past session to look at the opioid epidemic in our state with passing 15 out of 19 bills this year, but there’s much work to be done,” said Merritt.

Merritt is calling for legislation to increase penalties on drug dealers, including a 10-year mandatory minimum for those dealing fentanyl, a powerful opioid, and fentanyl-laced drugs. He also called for a 10-year minimum if there were to be a death in a drug deal.

“The poison in our community right now is fentanyl,” said Merritt.

While 10-year mandatory minimums seem like an easy fix, some worry that this will give judges less discretion to make decisions on an individual case basis – something Merritt did not seem too worried about.

“We have broken down at the court level in regard to serious violent  felons,” said Merritt.

Merritt also proposed bills that would increase penalties for armed robbery and serious violent felonies, and bringing back Senate Bill 10 which would allow the same protections offered to on-duty cops for off-duty officers.

“We want the state of Indiana safe,” said Merritt.

Bill Owensby, president of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of the Police, was supportive of Merritt’s proposed legislation to protect officers.

Owensby has noticed a growing problem with fentanyl in coastal states and believes that this drug problem will only begin to worsen in Indiana.

In the past weeks, numerous officers have been exposed to fentanyl while executing search warrants and have suffered overdose symptoms Owensby said.

“We absolutely support anything that’s going to make our officers safer,” said Owensby.

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

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