Indiana's full court press to fight opioid addiction


Note: This column was submitted by Michael A. McRobbie, president, Indiana University and Eric Holcomb, governor of the state of Indiana. It appeared on on October 25, 2017.

The addiction crisis in the United States is ravaging nearly every community across the nation. Last year alone, drug overdoses killed more Americans than the Vietnam and Iraq wars combined. Without comprehensive action, this trend will continue and likely accelerate.

The urgent question is how to fight it. And most importantly, how to do so effectively.

In our home state of Indiana, communities have been hit particularly hard. We are one of four states where the fatal drug overdose rate has quadrupled since 1999. The results are harrowing: an Indiana resident is now more likely to die from a drug overdose than a car accident. More than 750 Hoosiers died last year from an opioid overdose.

In addition to lives lost and families shattered, this crisis poses an economic threat. Drug overdose deaths in Indiana cost the state more than $1 billion each year in medical costs and lifetime earnings losses. Of this sum, $64 million is used to treat the alarming rate of infants born with an addiction to opioids.

An Indiana resident is now more likely to die from a drug overdose than a car accident.

The 21 million Americans estimated to suffer from addiction face a disease that is complex and difficult to treat. And precisely because this epidemic affects our friends, colleagues and neighbors of all backgrounds without discrimination, we know there is no one solution.

Instead, the breadth of the problem demands that we act simultaneously on a wide array of coordinated steps.

We must train medical professionals and addictions counselors, while changing policies that prevent people from getting needed treatment. We must better understand the science of addiction, while also engaging community support groups. And we must improve how we track the scope of this crisis, while also discovering new treatments.

But acting in each of these areas is only possible through unprecedented collaboration from organizations with the resources, expertise and reach to act comprehensively. Government action alone will not solve this crisis. And we will succeed only if lawmakers, universities, the non-profit sector, and businesses work together.

This integrated approach is what we are building in Indiana – and what experts see as a potentially replicable model for other states.

We’ve increased data-sharing between medical providers to help decrease the rate of opioid prescriptions. We’ve expanded addiction treatment options under the Healthy Indiana Plan, Indiana’s Medicaid program. And we’ve provided additional funding for addiction treatment sites – particularly in hard hit communities.

And now these efforts by policymakers are being matched by the state’s flagship university and two of the state’s largest health systems. Led by Indiana University, the collaborative $50 million initiative will not only address the shortage of addictions professionals throughout the state, but will create statewide databases that help track the epidemic. Researchers will also expand efforts to better identify the genetic, economic and biological forces that drive addiction. And we’ll partner with individual communities to pilot evidence-based interventions and identify policy solutions that respond to the unique needs of cities and towns across our state.

Goals for the initiative and Indiana are ambitious. We seek marked decreases in overdose deaths and opioid-addicted infants. Our targets call for thousands more medical providers trained in addictions diseases. And we aim to replace a significant portion of opioid painkillers with non-addictive alternative treatments for pain.

We can’t entirely eliminate addiction or the factors that spread it, but we can build a united response to this crisis. Our pledge is straightforward. We’ll tap the collective impact of our state’s major institutions to create solutions that can help reverse this crisis across our state – and nationwide. The lives of our neighbors depend on our willingness and ability to do so.