IU to spend $50 million to fight Indiana’s opioid crisis

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Indiana University officials announced a 5-year, $50 million initiative to study and curb the Hoosier State’s opioid crisis.

IU President Michael McRobbie said it’s the largest and most comprehensive state-based response to the opioid addiction crisis, and the largest anywhere led by a university.

“People are dying and we must act,” McRobbie said. “Now is the time to bring to bear the resources of all IU campuses to help address and mitigate this destructive and deadly public health crisis.”

The initiative, which is part of the university’s “Grand Challenges Program,” is in response to staggering numbers when it comes to fatal overdoses in Indiana.

“Indiana is one of four states where the fatal drug overdose rate has more than quadrupled since 1999,” McRobbie said.

The first $13 million will be spent on about a dozen initial projects by the end of this year, according to Fred Cate, IU Vice President for Research. A second round of projects will get underway in May 2018. About 70 researchers will be devoted to the effort, utilizing experts in the medical school, nursing school, law school and others. Public and Environmental Affairs, as well as social workers will also be involved.

Doctor Robin Newhouse, Dean of the IU School of Nursing and research team leader for the initiative, said local community leaders need a more accurate picture of Indiana’s opioid crisis. She said that can only be accomplished by collecting real-time data.

“Opioid prescriptions filled at multiple pharmacies by the same person, or admissions to the emergency department,” Newhouse said. “We will develop a better understanding of the neurobiological, social, behavioral mechanisms that underlie addiction and pain response to addiction.”

The partnership between Indiana University and Governor Eric Holcomb’s office will also include IU Health and Eskenazi Health.

IU Health President and CEO, Dennis Murphy said doctors and nurses see the effects of the opioid crisis every day.

“In our emergency rooms, where the use of life-saving naloxone has tripled over the last five years,” Murphy said.

“Together, we will decrease opioid overdose deaths,” Newhouse said. “Together, we will decrease the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

McRobbie said the initiative grew out of a conversation he had with Holcomb shortly after the governor delivered his state of the state address in January. During the address, Holcomb placed emphasis on tackling Indiana’s problem with addiction and overdoses.

“We’ve got mothers who are shooting up in hospital parking lots before giving birth,” Governor Holcomb said. “We’ve got PhDs who are popping positive on drug tests at the work place.”

The governor said he never realized how widespread the opioid problem was until he started hearing daily stories from Hoosiers about the devastating effects of opioid abuse.

“When you start to learn about elephant tranquilizers being used to alter your state of mind, and when you start to learn about those who’ve lost love for their own family members, it had a tremendous impact on me,” Holcomb said.

IU officials say findings of their research will eventually lead to policy recommendations to state government leaders. Governor Holcomb said it is possible the project will eventually change Indiana’s laws and how they are enforced.

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