The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, May 01, 2018 1:00 am


Challenge accepted

IU adds state's daunting drug crisis to 2020 goals

A new report from a group of Indiana University legal and public health experts offers some fresh perspectives and approaches to beating the drug addiction crisis.

The recommendations released last week represent the first salvo in a $50 million effort chosen by IU as one of its “Grand Challenges” in advance of the university's 2020 bicentennial. The idea is to address the crisis by combining cross-disciplinary research with business and community efforts. The university is also taking on at least two other Grand Challenges: environmental change, and an effort to use new treatment strategies to cure at least one form of cancer and at least one childhood disease.

Co-led by Nicholas P. Terry of the Robert H. McKinney School of Law and Ross D. Silverman of the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, the task force had many positive things to say about the state's effort to curb fatal opioid overdoses and other types of substance abuse.

The report begins with statistics that may be familiar. It notes that “one in 12 Hoosiers – almost half a million people – meet the criteria” for having a substance-abuse disorder. But it says the problem is “a rapidly moving target,” changing even as the medical, judicial and law enforcement communities are trying to solve it.

“There exists,” the report says, “not just one crisis, but two: The first is the prescription-drug epidemic – highly visible to the public, and more likely to occur among older adults in rural, white communities who misuse prescription painkillers. The second, more recently emerging epidemic, is among younger adults who are victims of illegally produced opioids such as fentanyl.”

That distinction may help explain why opioid deaths continue to increase even though statewide and national statistics show the rate of painkiller prescriptions has been dropping.

The IU report suggests Indiana could save both expense and lives if it further expanded its harm-reduction strategies in the drug war. For instance, the researchers suggest that laws need to be refined to encourage more citizens to acquire and use the opioid antidote Narcan to reverse usually fatal opioid overdoses. The study commends the state for instituting needle-exchange programs but suggests that effort needs to be expanded and made consistent across the state. Those programs are primarily aimed at preventing intravenous drug users from spreading HIV and hepatitis C, but the IU team also emphasizes the benefits of connecting addicts with treatment programs and other medical resources.

Some of those interviewed by the research team noted “a critical lack of treatment programs and facilities in Indiana”; others stressed “the importance of post-treatment services to keeping persons with (substance-use disorder) from relapsing.”

The study is the first of 16 over the next five years that will attempt to harness IU's brainpower to help solve the drug crisis. It is aimed at policymakers, but it could be of interest to anyone who has a stake in resolving this deadly crisis.

Which is to say, all of us.

To learn more

To read a summary of the IU report, or the full report, go to

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