Though Indiana Governor, Eric Holcomb, has placed the opioid epidemic at the forefront of his agenda, the Indy Star reports that the state is unlikely to allocate any additional funds towards the crisis. An estimated 1 in 20 Hoosiers struggles with opioid addiction, and deaths from overdoses have more than quadrupled in Indiana since 1999. The state currently designates about $5 million per year to the crisis, and the 21st Century Cures Act gave Indiana an additional $10.9 million in grant money with its first round of funding. However, advocates indicate that this is still far too little. Senator Jim Merritt, who was vital in passing over 10 pieces of legislation focusing on treatment and prevention, told the Indy Star, “We have a $250 million problem in the state … $10 million just scratches the surface.”
Hours after being sworn in Governor Holcomb appointed Jim McClelland executive director of a new commission created specifically to address the crisis. Neither McClelland nor Merritt will push for more funding in the upcoming year because it is not a budget year. Budget sessions are every two years, so the next state budget won’t be determined until 2019.
The majority of the current budget goes towards enabling treatment facilities to reach and effectively treat “pregnant women, women with children and persons who inject drugs.” However, the ambitious initiatives and pilot programs launched by the Holcomb administration will have limited reach. SEA 446, a pilot program designed to treat women who are expecting and with newborns, will only have three locations – Indianapolis, Winchester, and southern Indiana. The other initiatives include developing plans by 2018 for expanding treatment to specific communities, including the homeless and mentally ill, and increasing the number of in-treatment detox and drug treatment facilities. The founder of the Overdose Lifeline, Justin Phillips, explained to the Indy Star, “It’s frustrating that we’re still talking and still deciding and not doing….. People are dying.”
Drug usage and the opioid crisis are divisive topics among lawmakers. Senator Merritt told the Indy Star that mitigating the stigma of drug use among lawmakers and elected-officials is a key focus, indicating that officials should know addiction is “an illness, not a character flaw.” These polarized views are most evident among discussions about public health solutions to needle sharing.
In order to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, Indiana has allowed counties to establish local needle exchange programs where drug-users can trade their used needles for new ones. Indiana’s Attorney General, Curtis Hill, published an op-ed earlier this year, criticizing such exchange programs as enabling drug use. He later accused the CDC of attempting to alter data that showed an increase in injections and propagating a “pro-needle-exchange narrative” after the CDC requested Indiana edit analysis in a report. The CDC argued that while the number of injections per day increased, drug usage remained constant because users were injecting the same amount of drugs per usage session – only in smaller, safer doses, resulting in more injections.