Task force must attack drug issue


(Bloomington) Herald-Times

On the subject of Gov. Mike Pence’s announcement of a new task force to lead the effort to combat drug abuse in Indiana, partisanship must be set aside and replaced by a spirit of cooperation to solve a deadly problem.

In the past few months, a number of stories in the (Bloomington)Herald-Times have touched on various aspects of the problem. Data from the Indiana State Department of Health show an 83 percent increase in hepatitis C cases in Monroe County over the past six years, likely an outcome of intravenous drug use.

IU Health Bloomington Hospital data estimate 50 percent more patients per year have shown up at the hospital with signs of heroin poisoning each of the past three years. Nine people with heroin overdoses were treated by the hospital in 2012; 48 in 2014. Sixteen deaths have been attributed to drug overdoses this year.

And our county, Monroe, is far from the focal point of Indiana’s drug issue.

Scott County’s opioid abuse-related HIV outbreak has generated the most news. Scott and two other counties have been authorized to operate needle-exchange programs to fight the spread of disease. Nearly 20 other counties, including Monroe, have taken steps in that direction.

Statewide, deaths linked to heroin abuse rose from three in 2003 to 154 just 10 years later, according to the Indiana Department of Health.

Indiana ranked No. 16 among the states in drug overdose death rates in 2014, registering 15.1 deaths per 100,000 population.

Pence is not proposing a war on drugs. He wants a more effective strategy than that.

He acknowledged law enforcement will play a role but said the state must “address the root causes of addiction and focus on treatment.”

In fact, the task force is focusing on prevention, treatment and enforcement.

That three-pronged approach is much more realistic and passionate than simply trying to cut off the supply and incarcerate users. It acknowledges that addiction is an illness, and treatment must be a part of the solution.

Among the most insidious challenges the state faces is overcoming hopelessness, a feeling plaguing many Hoosiers who have not fared well as factories closed, especially in small, rural communities. Many manufacturing jobs that employed people in these communities were replaced by service jobs — or no jobs at all.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, a member of the task force, noted in a Friday interview the need for foundational change that provides hope for all Hoosiers. He said people need to be pulled from what he called a “shadow culture” back into a more hopeful life.

Bloomington police Chief Mike Diekhoff is a member of the 21-person task force as the president of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police.

He said he was eager to be involved because he sees the value in some programs already operating in Bloomington and Monroe County. He cited downtown resource officers and drug court.

The task force will have the opportunity to look at those programs and other successful strategies already in place around Indiana’s 92 counties.

A range of voices must be heard and myriad ideas considered. The task force must sift through it all and make some nonpartisan recommendations. The politics of second-guessing has no place in this debate because lives are being ruined. People are dying.

Gov. Pence has recognized the need to act. What happens next in addressing the issues of drug abuse and addiction in Indiana is what matters now.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Pr

ess Association. Send comments to [email protected].

No posts to display