Indiana starts to tackle drug crisis

In an interview with Fox 59 in Indianapolis, Indiana’s outgoing Attorney General Greg Zoeller had a bleak assessment of the state’s growing drug epidemic.

The state hasn’t done nearly enough, he said: “Unfortunately, I think the problem is really going to overwhelm everything that we put in place. And I can almost predict mathematically that we are going to have higher rates of overdoses.”

We certainly hope he’s wrong about that, and Hoosiers can at least be thankful that the incoming administration is taking the problem very seriously.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has said attacking the drug epidemic will be one of his top priorities this legislative session. One of his first official acts was to sign an executive order creating the new position of executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement. He also wants to work toward giving local communities the authority to establish syringe exchange programs, enhancing prevention with limits on opioid prescriptions, and creating tougher penalties for those who commit pharmacy robberies.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, has made a war on heroin one of his top issues of this session, and he says it might even become his top issue for the next five years. He said his goal is to “kill heroin” within five years, which might be a bit ambitious but should help him focus.

“We will have a comprehensive plan that will contain 19 pieces of legislation to get us to a detox treatment recovery system in this state,” he told WTHR in Indianapolis. “I think you have heard of us all saying we can’t arrest our way out of this. This is an illness, not a character flaw. This is a health care issue, not a law enforcement issue — something we need to continue to work on. Probably everyone in this room has been touched by this epidemic, this scourge. Something we will work on day and night for the next five years to kill heroin in our state,” he said.

It’s not an overstatement to say we have a drug epidemic, and it’s fair to call it a crisis. Since 1999, Indiana has seen a 500 percent increase in drug overdose deaths.

Solving the problem, or even alleviating it, will require a variety of approaches by many people at all levels of government. Indiana officials, thank goodness, understand that.

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