Is Indiana’s opioid monitoring program going far enough?

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Doctors and pharmacists across the state are linking up to share information about the drugs you're taking. It's another effort to curb the state's opioid crisis. But does the new system go far enough?

Indiana's opioid epidemic is at a fever pitch. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, 2,322 Hoosiers died from an opioid overdose between 2010 and 2015.

Amy Rardon was close to becoming part of that statistic.

In 2005, Amy went to her primary care doctor with complaints of back pain and walked away with Vicodin. At first, she was prescribed just one pill a day. She remembers how good it felt to take those pills.

"It's kind of like a warm feeling and a feeling of everything is right in the world," she recalled.

But by the third month, Amy admits, she was a full-blown addict. And the doses kept increasing.

"I need to get high. I need to get high."

At one point in her addiction, Amy was popping 10 pills a day. Even that wasn't enough. She was always on the hunt for more.

She went to Emergency Rooms and walk-in clinics, shopping for a doctor who wasn't linked to a network and who wouldn't know what was going on.

"I'm like, 'If I go here they're not gonna know I was just prescribed 75 pills 10 days ago," she said. She was doing all of this, she explained, while fooling her own doctor into dolling out even more pills.

"It's not that she is stupid, because she's not. I did not present like an addict," Amy explained. "I acted like I was more concerned about what would happen if I became addicted to them, even though I already was addicted to them."

Fighting back

Now, state leaders say they've got a tool to help stop people like Amy. Indiana is currently integrating its drug monitoring program called INSPECT. Once integration is complete in a few months, INSPECT will connect pharmacies, ERs and doctors’ offices across the state. Healthcare professionals in any town will be able to punch in your name and see exactly how many opioids you've been prescribed and who is prescribing them.

While pharmacists must use INSPECT, we found out physicians don't have to. So the question is, if doctors aren't checking, will this tool really work?

"I promise you it will not be very long before every addict in Indianapolis knows which doctors don't check," warned Amy.

State Senator Jim Merritt agrees that the state must catch the "bad doctors."

Merritt is a big supporter of INSPECT, but he thinks the state should come up with a way to catch doctors who aren't using the drug monitoring system. But he's not sure if the state needs a law, yet.

"I don't know. Do you put a doctor in jail if they didn't take a look at INSPECT? I don't think so," he said. "Maybe sometime down the line where we have the perfect system which is coming close soon, along with if we can devise a system where sanctions can be involved. Great, but we're not there yet."

We asked the Governor what he thought about requiring doctors to use INSPECT.

"We will continue to review it. We want to make sure that we are bending the trajectory of substance abuse down and we will not rest until we use every measure possible," said Governor Eric Holcomb.

(Read Governor Holcomb's recent Op-Ed about the opioid epidemic in the IndyStar)

For now, state leaders are simply hoping doctors will use the program if it's easily accessible to them. In the end, they'll have to rely on pharmacists to be the last line of defense.

Will it be enough?

"If (INSPECT) could've nabbed me before I went down this road, you know, I don`t know what would've happened," said Amy.

She has come a long way. She's going to a treatment center and getting better day by day.

But she said not everyone is as lucky as her. Currently, there are only 13 opioid treatment centers across Indiana.

"We have people that drive from Bloomington and people that come from Muncie and people that come from Lafayette. People that drive an hour one way to get treatment. How are you supposed to work a job and do that?"

She's hoping leaders quickly increase the number of treatment centers for those Hoosiers already addicted as INSPECT goes live across the state. Her worst fear is those addicts will turn to heroin as a result.

"I understand the need for these programs to be in place, but what upsets me is the fact that they're in place before there are measures to handle these situations," said Amy. "It's still not enough in my opinion."

Indiana recently launched a new website which serves as a one-stop-shop of resources for addicts and their families. You can find Next Level Recovery here.