GREATER FORT WAYNE BUSINESS WEEKLY

A number of northeast Indiana lawmakers believe the state needs to support treatment options to combat the opioid crisis.

More than 9 percent of adult Hoosiers reported illicit drug use in the past month and 4.34 percent of adults reported non-medical use of pain relievers in the past year, according to a governor’s task force report released Dec. 5.

School and transportation funding still top many local legislators’ lists of priorities for the upcoming legislative session, but helping Hoosiers battle opioid addictions will likely be part of the budget — and it should be.

This is good news for employers who have difficulty finding quality workers. A number of economists attribute a decline in the nation’s labor force participation rate of prime-aged men to the opioid crisis.

As a result, the number of people addicted to prescription pain medication is impeding economic growth.

“We now lose more people to opiate overdoses than car accidents nationally and prescription painkillers result in more overdose deaths than heroin and crack combined,” Jeff Korzenik, chief investment strategist for Fifth Third Private Bank said in late October. “This is a big problem that we as citizens have to care about and know about. It’s also an issue for us economically.”

To begin combating substance use disorders, as defined by the governor’s task force, the state established an opioid treatment program. The program works with organizations based in major cities across the state and a new treatment center is located in Indianapolis.

We are pleased to see the state stepping up to address addiction and mental health issues because, as state Senate President Pro-tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, recently said, “You can’t just throw everybody into jail.”

But, more needs to be done. This is why we are glad to see medical experts, law enforcement and policy makers working together to address treatment and prevention — not merely enforcement.

Addiction is a chronic brain disease, the task force study notes, and at the height of opioid addiction, many people “simply cannot help themselves.” As a result, when individuals cannot access prescription painkillers after developing an addiction, many turn to illicit drugs such as heroin.

In 2014, “94 percent of those in opioid addiction treatment reported having switched to heroin” because obtaining a prescription painkiller became too difficult or too expensive.

One state hospital opening in Indianapolis is not enough, state Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne), who sits on the Health and Provider Services committee, said during a recent legislative preview with local lawmakers.

“There’s not a one size fits all,” she said when speaking of the opioid problem.

The governor’s task force recommended a number of steps to address the opioid crisis — most notably extending Medicaid coverage to include opioid treatment, focusing on prevention and reinvesting in mental health treatment facilities and programs.

We applaud state policy makers for acknowledging the opioid crisis is a complex issue and mental health treatment can be more cost-effective in the long run than imprisoning drug offenders.

Now, we look forward to seeing how lawmakers implement the outlined proposals and weigh them with the other important issues needing funding in the budget.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.