INDIANAPOLIS -- A drug task force convened by Gov. Mike Pence says the state of Indiana should treat addiction as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one, in its final report released this week.
The report, compiled by the Governor's Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment & Prevention, covers everything from the effectiveness of efforts to combat the HIV epidemic in Scott County to recommendations for treating inmates with substance use disorders.
FULL REPORT | Governor's Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment & Prevention Final Report
The task force itself was authorized in 2014 by the Indiana General Assembly and is comprised of 50 members from the law enforcement, public health, legislative and faith communities.
The report's conclusions come on the heels of a letter from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who urged the country to start treating addiction as a chronic disease.
“We have to stop treating addiction as a moral failing, and start seeing it for what it is: a chronic disease that must be treated with urgency and compassion," Murthy wrote.
In the report, the task force makes 17 recommendations for enforcement, treatment and prevention of substance used disorders in Indiana. Those recommendations include:
FSSA pursuing a Medicaid 1115 Demonstration Waiver – This would allow Hoosiers enrolled in Medicaid to access funding for substance abuse treatment options not currently covered by the program. The Affordable Care Act currently requires insurance providers, including Medicaid, to cover all basic aspects of addiction treatment.
Raising awareness of Aaron's Law – Senate Enrolled Act 406-2015, otherwise known as Aaron's Law, allows Hoosiers to obtain a prescription for the anti-overdose drug naloxone if they believe someone they know is at risk of an opioid overdose. Prior to the law, only emergency workers were allowed to carry the drug.
Expand Lifeline Law to include immunity beyond alcohol offenses – The General Assembly took this step in March, passing a law protecting those who contact EMS and stay with people experiencing an opioid-overdose. The law allows them to avoid prosecution for possession of cocaine, meth, paraphernalia, marijuana or a synthetic drug in those circumstances.
Pilot a Regional Therapeutic Communities program in Starke County – The state launched its first non-prison-based therapeutic community program in February to treat IDOC offenders with substance abuse problems. The program allows offenders to receive a sentence modification if they complete the program.
Direct state agencies to adopt chronic pain prescribing rules – Over-prescription of opioid painkillers has been linked to the explosion of the opioid addiction epidemic. The State Board of Nursing, State Board of Dentistry, Physician Assistant Committee and others have subsequently adopted new rules for prescribing pain medications.
- Implement the Gold Card Program statewide – Indiana's Gold Car Program allows qualified healthcare providers to prescribe individuals with "clinically appropriate drug abuse treatment" without administrative delays.
While the report touts success in treating the Scott County HIV epidemic – it quotes a survey reporting a drop from 18 to 2 percent in needle-sharing in Scott County – it does not go so far as to recommend permanently lifting Indiana's ban on needle exchange programs.
Currently, counties that wish to offer a needle exchange program must apply for a waiver from the state on an individual basis. As of November 21, eight counties had been approved for needle exchanges and another 16 were working toward potential programs.
The task force's report is non-binding. Legislators will have the opportunity to take up its recommendations in January when the General Assembly resumes session.
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