Addiction issues top lawmakers’ agenda

GREENFIELD — Drug addiction — how to fund treatment options and steer users toward them — dominated discussion among lawmakers and residents during the Eggs and Issues legislative breakfast, hosted this week by the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Hancock County residents and businessmen and women met Tuesday with Rep. Robert Cherry and Sen. Mike Crider, both Greenfield Republicans, and Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, an Indianapolis Republican who represents a small portion of western Hancock County, to discuss proposed bills that will impact residents here.

Lawmakers touched on bills regarding education, road funding and other topics, but much of the conversation circled back to drug addiction and overdoses, which many say are becoming a state epidemic.

The lawmakers agreed state leaders need to find a way to help communities treat addiction and say a series of bills being mulled at the Statehouse might provide some funding and guidance to tackle the problem.

Crider said employers around the state have told lawmakers one of the most common reasons they turn applicants away is because many job-seekers can’t pass a drug test.

Additionally, hospital officials have shared stories of babies who suffer after birth — born addicted to drugs — because of their mothers’ abuse, Crider said.

Lawmakers expect a package of bills will be approved; those will then be passed to a newly created state task force, the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse. The team’s leaders will then be charged with doling out funding to support efforts to curtail drug use among Hoosiers, Crider said.

A bill Crider and two other lawmakers penned calls for the commission to meet at least four times a year to consider funding requests for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs. The bill also establishes a pilot program to reimburse doctors who undergo special training to prescribe drugs to treat opioid addiction.

“We’re going to see if we can make some headway now,”  Crider said.

Lawmakers also discussed drug rehabilitation facilities that have recently opened or are preparing to open across the state.

Hickory House, the county’s first in-patient drug rehabilitation facility, opened its doors last week. On the east side of Indianapolis, a state hospital is being built to treat psychiatrist illnesses and addiction.

But more facilities that offer counseling and other services for drug addicts are needed, they agree.

“We’ve got to do more than just give a Band-aid fix,” Cherry said.

Bosma said he feels the task force the governor has created will have a positive influence on the issue.

Lawmakers hope the coalition helps coordinate programs across the state and advises policymakers on changes to state law that punish the people selling drugs, while treating those who are addicted, Bosma said.

Wayne Addison, the county’s chief probation officer, told lawmakers his department is working to treat heroin addicts locally by helping to enroll them in a halfway house program in lieu of sending them to jail for crimes they’ve committed to feed their drug addiction, but more funding is needed.

Crider thanked him for that work, saying it’s the type of local program that has the potential to help those suffering from addiction.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.