Indiana lawmakers considering action to fight worsened drug epidemic

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – One of the many effects of the pandemic is the worsened drug epidemic, and Indiana lawmakers are looking at ways they can take action this session to curb the rise in overdoses.

CDC data shows Indiana saw a 32% spike in overdose deaths during the first year of the pandemic.

It’s an issue state lawmakers worked to address before COVID-19. Now, some say they have more urgency to take action.

The drug crisis has been a bipartisan concern, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle planning to introduce some legislation next session to try to combat the problem.

“We all have our family members, our friends, our community members that we know that have walked this journey.”

 State Rep. Ann Vermilion / (R) Marion

State Rep. Ann Vermilion (R-Marion) said that’s what has spurred more talk – and action – at the Statehouse regarding the drug epidemic.

As the problem deepened due to the pandemic, state lawmakers allocated nearly $100 million toward mental health and substance abuse efforts, she said.

“We want to look at prevention,” State Rep. Vermilion said. “We want to look at quality of care. We want to look at scope of what we’re reimbursing.”

Vermilion said she also wants to ensure expanded access to telehealth remains permanent and is looking at ways to make that law for Hoosiers who are either publicly or privately insured.

“Sometimes we have patients depending on where they’re at that day or that week in their journey, maybe a telehealth visit is more inviting for them,” said State Rep. Vermilion.

Expanding access to treatment is also a goal of State Rep. Rita Fleming (D-Jeffersonville). As a retired OB-GYN, she expressed concern about a recent state report that shows in 2018, accidental overdoses were the leading cause of pregnancy associated deaths in Indiana.

She noted that last session, Indiana lawmakers expanded Medicaid coverage for new mothers.

“Beginning in April, women on Medicaid will have a full year of postpartum coverage,” State Rep. Fleming said. “So we can connect them with resources.”

Fleming said those efforts may not necessarily require more legislation.

“I think it’s a developing awareness that this is necessary. A willingness on the part of the provider to do it, and it may require that we increase reimbursement rates for these types of services.”

State Rep. Rita Fleming / (D) Jeffersonville

Although she feels hopeful Indiana can turn things around, Fleming said it’s going to take a lot more work.

“We’re going to have to change our way of caring for people and extending our care to a longer period to really help people,” said State Rep. Fleming.

Lawmakers say they don’t anticipate allocating more state funding toward the issue next session since it’s not a budget year. The next time the state budget will be rewritten is 2023.

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