INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 2, 2015) – One day after Gov. Mike Pence launched a new task force targeting Indiana’s drug epidemic, a group of state and federal officials pointed to Congress for action.
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) hosted the round table at IUPUI, comprised of medical experts focused on how to control the rate of prescriptions in Indiana.
“This isn’t a worry about what might happen next,” Donnelly said. “This is about dealing with what’s in front of us right now because we have a big challenge.”
Federal data shows 80 percent of heroin use begins with a doctor’s prescription for pain medication. Experts said many doctors are unaware they’re a major part of the problem.
“That’s what’s causing this opiate epidemic across the country – a lot of people who are just inappropriately prescribing a little bit,” Dr. Jerome Adams, the Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner.
Adams said Indiana is one of 13 states that writes more than 100 prescriptions per 100 citizens.
“That means there is a painkiller prescribed in Indiana every year for every citizen of the state,” he said.
Federal legislation sponsored by both Donnelly and Brooks, meant to increase funding and education, hasn’t gained significant traction yet in Congress.
The legislation would also create a federal task force including representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Veteran Affairs, Department of Defense, Drug Enforcement Administration and Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Wednesday’s closed-door roundtable was meant to ignite change locally, while drafting more input for lawmakers in Congress.
“We’re already making progress,” Donnelly said. “So we’re just going to continue to push. We’ve talked to Sen. Grassley’s judiciary committee, is where our legislation is, to try and make sure we get floor time.”
Some critics have said the new push from lawmakers will be ineffective.
“I don’t think it’s too little, too late,” Brooks said. “But yet because Indiana has such a significant problem in the country, we need to be leading and educating the rest of the country about solutions that work.”
Brooks said beyond targeting rogue doctors and pharmacists, like current efforts by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, more training is needed for medical students and current practitioners, many who are unaware of how easily over-prescribing can spiral out of control.
“They could actually be enabling part of the problem,” she said. “And they need more education.”