INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana residents are more likely to die from a drug overdose than a car crash.
That grim statistic was offered Tuesday by Indiana University officials who joined Gov. Eric Holcomb at the Statehouse to announce a new effort funded by $50 million in university money to fight opioid abuse.
“If I could do but just one thing as governor — accomplish just one major thing — it would be to bend the trajectory of opioid abuse down,” said Holcomb, a Republican, who has made the issue a cornerstone of his agenda.
“This crisis affects everyone — all socio-economic levels, all races, all backgrounds.”
Opiate abuse has spiked across much of the country, but Indiana’s problem is particularly acute. Officials say Indiana is one of four states where overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 1999.
IU plans to use the money and its academic expertise to help collect data on the scope of the problem, train health care workers and craft better public policy.
IU School of Nursing Dean Robin Newhouse says there is a dearth of statewide data. Without it, officials have a hard time devoting resources to the right areas.
“What were told is the data is so disparate and unconnected that policy makers, organizations, can’t even make decisions using evidence,” Newhouse said.
Another area the school has targeted is training and education. The state lacks an adequate number of frontline workers who are trained to help in the recovery process, like nurse practitioners, social workers and psychiatrists.
Newhouse says the university wants to develop a framework that will help medical workers better identity patients who may be addicted and get them referred for treatment.
Still, one major question hovers over the state’s efforts to reduce opioid dependency: Will there be enough funding to make a significant difference?
Holcomb has asked the federal government for permission to use Medicaid funds made available through former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law for drug abuse treatment. A ruling on that has yet to come, but it could bring upward of $60 million for expanded drug treatment to the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan, commonly called HIP 2.0, which covers more than 400,000 low-income people.
Democrats have targeted Holcomb on that front, suggesting there are “two Holcombs.”
One supports directing additional resources to fight the opioid problem. The other, Democrats suggest, backed two of the GOP’s recent failed attempts at gutting Obama’s law, which also would have slashed funding for HIP 2.0, including drug treatment.
“He’s counting on DC Republicans’ actions on health care to fail,” said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody. “It’s a risky bet and one that puts politics ahead of the countless Hoosiers just trying to get on the path toward recovery.”