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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, November 09, 2019 1:00 am

'Drug czar' caps laudable tenure

The opioid crisis was raging when newly elected Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb asked Jim McClelland to become the state's first “drug czar” in 2017. It was not an easy job to take on.

The misuse of prescribed and illicit opioids was national in scope, but the epidemic had hit Indiana harder than many other places. Doctors were still prescribing far more opioids than the national average, and the overdose death rate was surging.

McClelland's 41 years running Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana gave him both the managerial skills and the understanding of the disadvantaged required to run the statewide fight against opioid abuse. In his role as chairman of the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse, he helped the state's medical community address the problem more effectively; speaking around the state, he helped Hoosiers grasp the dimensions of the problem and the need for firm but compassionate responses.

In the almost three years since, a range of national, state and local strategies has brought most communities some relief. In Indiana, where a coalition of health care, law enforcement and social-service professionals stepped up to battle the addiction crisis, the results have been especially encouraging. In 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug-overdose deaths in the state declined by 12.9% since the previous year, almost three times the rate of decline nationally; opioid prescriptions also dropped dramatically.

McClelland on Thursday announced his retirement, effective Jan. 9, 2020.