When the opioid epidemic led to a frightening number of overdose deaths in some counties, Indiana officials showed they could rise above ideological misgivings and take the kind of emergency action needed to address a severe problem. First, they considered giving permission for a needle exchange program on a county-by-county basis. Then, they took the next logical step and gave all Hoosier counties the authority to decide on their own whether to adopt an exchange program. That was a necessary bold move in a time of crisis.
Now officials from all levels of government will be tested further, because the opioid crisis has only gotten worse. Emergency room visits for non-fatal drug overdoses rose by nearly 60 percent in Indiana during a recent five-year period, to almost 3,000 visits statewide, according to a new report from the state Department of Health. The report shows deadly overdoses rose by an average of 3.5 percent each year from 2011 to 2015, peaking at over 270 deaths in 2015, The Indianapolis Star reported. At least 365 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, according to health department statistics.
The epidemic goes well beyond Indiana, of course, and officials from more than one state have expressed the opinion that “this isn't something we can arrest our way out of.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions might disagree. He has sent out the word that prosecutors should go for the maximum penalty possible on all crimes. That could result in refilling our prisons with low-level drug offenders who need help more than incarceration.
And Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has said he prefers a faith-based treatment program for addiction rather than the medication-assisted programs favored now that wean people off their dangerous addictions with other opioids like Suboxone and methadone.
The truth is there is no one magic solution. Addressing the opioid crisis will take multiple approaches by local, state and federal officials not afraid to work together and trust each other. The state of Indiana took a leap of faith when it acknowledged that counties might just have a good handle on how to handle their own drug problems. We hope the federal government can make the same leap of faith when it comes to putting its trust in the states.