Experts: Indiana needs more mental health professionals to curb skyrocketing drug abuse

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 16, 2015)-- The fix to Indiana’s skyrocketing rates of drug abuse could be much tougher than initially expected. Wednesday was the first meeting of Governor Mike Pence’s “Governor’s Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment, and Prevention.” The governor made the announcement regarding the task force earlier this month.

Task force members quickly found out through testimony from experts that Indiana doesn’t have all the infrastructure in place right now to fight the problem.

A psychiatrist who testified in front of the board said if the state starts to work now Indiana may show some progress in ten years.

“We may be in a much better place in ten years,” said Dr. Andrew Chambers, a psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at IU.

Chambers said the state’s issues with mental health and drug use have been years in the making. He said there’s a lack of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals trained and working in Indiana, and on top of that, there’s no place for them to work.

“We really have to build our own infrastructure and workforce in Indiana. It`s actually really hard to recruit addiction psychiatrists because they`re in demand everywhere in the United States. It just happens our shortage is one of the worst examples,” he said.

“There are a lot of issues popping up today that we have to solve,” said State Senator Jim Merritt.

Some of the issues include barriers to treatment because of state boundaries. Mental health advocates said the state should honor professional licenses from other states, allowing practitioners to cross state lines.

“I’m afraid that isn’t a solution. The surrounding states are in shortages but not as bad as ours,” said Chambers.

Other options could include adjacent state reimbursements for recovery services.

This was the first meeting of Governor Mike Pence’s task force, held Wednesday at Eskenazi Hospital. Two more meetings are scheduled, one in October in Evansville, and the other in November in South Bend.

Those leading the panel said more meetings may be added as the true scope of the problem becomes known.

“That’s been made very clear that we just don’t have the substance use provider network and the infrastructure to care for all the disorders out there,” said Dr. John Wernert, a task force co-chair, “We need to start investing in education and training the workforce.”

At each meeting the task force will take action on recommendations. Those will be compiled after the three planned meetings, for formal recommendation to Governor Mike Pence along with legislative options.