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IN Focus: Governor’s drug czar unveils new strategy to fight epidemic

INDIANAPOLIS - Around 20,000 Hoosiers are expected to overdose this year- and that's why Governor Eric Holcomb’s Commission to Combat Drug Abuse has adopted a broad strategy to link prevention and treatment solutions to drug addiction with traditional law enforcement efforts.

“This framework and action plan reflect months of partnership with diverse stakeholders and research on Indiana’s drug crisis,” said Jim McClelland, Indiana Executive Director for Drug Treatment, Prevention and Enforcement.

The six-page plan sets the philosophy and parameters of the state’s approach to combat an opioid addiction crisis that has users, families and communities in its grip.

The plan will be data-driven with an emphasis on substance abuse prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery and enforcement while bringing all the state’s police agencies, health care and treatment providers together under the unified vision.

The strategies include addressing the reduction of substance abuse and the harm that comes from it, improvement of treatment programs and support for the communities impact by abuse and support prevention and recovery efforts.

“There’s going to be a heavy emphasis on our prevention side,” said McClelland. “I’m particularly concerned about having much wider availability of evidence based prevention programs for children and youth to deal with a wider array of addictive substances.”

Samantha Siegle spent five years addicted to heroin before finally becoming healthy in 2013.

“I don’t think there’s enough opportunities out there and enough availability of treatment options for people that are struggling,” said Siegle who couldn’t find the help she needed in eastern rural Indiana. “I tried to get myself clean for about a year and a half before it finally happened for me because there was no beds available, there was no funding available, I had no health insurance, there was just nothing out there.”

Even when health insurance and addiction treatment are available, families are often blocked from participating in their loved one’s recovery because of federal privacy laws according to Tom Hanna whose son died a year ago when his father didn’t realize his child’s abstinence medication ran out.

“When these young men and women are overdosed and in the hospital there’s rules and regulations that stop the health providers from giving you information and if that child doesn’t want you to know things, they aren’t going to tell you things,” said Hanna. “We need to be made aware of what their addict children or husband or wife are going through because sometimes they won’t tell you.”

Justin Phillips became an advocate for access to Naloxone as she watched her own son battle heroin addiction. That eyewitness account drove her to help state lawmakers pass legislation allowing family members to possess the opioid antidote.

“The barriers that still exist are financial, there is still stigma and shame for families to have to go in and say, ‘I need naloxone,’ because that pharmacist might judge you,” said Phillips. “I think what encourages me is the amount of dollar resources they are putting behind all the different facets because its true, we can save them with naloxone and we can save them five times, but we have to have a place for them to go after we save them and right now we don’t.”

The commission was told that millions of dollars in funding has been sought for programs to monitor prescriptions, combat stigma, raise addiction awareness and make naloxone more widely available.

McClelland said more details will be developed this summer.