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Indiana Drug Czar: Opioid crisis will worsen

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Hoosier in charge of fighting the state’s opioid epidemic said the crisis is only going to get worse.

There is no single face to the opioid crisis. The numbers are jaw-dropping. Opioid deaths are sky-rocketing in Indiana; overdoses are sending many more to hospitals; there’s a black hole of money from the epidemic.

On his first day in office in January, Gov. Eric Holcomb called it an epidemic and signed an executive order to create the first ever drug czar of Indiana. He named Jim McClelland, the former CEO of Goodwill Industries, to the post.

“It’s destroying lives and devastating families and damaging communities every day,” he said, nearly 10 months after starting on the job.

McClelland and his team have a 13-page blueprint to defeat the epidemic.

“This problem is enormous,” he said.

It’s a combination of treatment and prevention. It involves partnerships with state agencies, nonprofits, community groups, and hospitals. There are several grant applications and hopes for a $60 million federal waiver that would help Medicaid patients pay for opioid addiction treatment.

“Every indication that we’ve had from Washington, D.C. is that that will be approved,” said McClelland.

He said successes so far include the state’s five new treatment centers set to open, expanding Medicaid treatment coverage to methadone, and revamping the records system to track a patient’s prescription history.

So how’s he doing?

“I don’t know that there’s any way that we can be doing, that we can feel like no matter how much we’re doing, that it’s enough to meet what we would really like to do,” said McClelland. “That’s a function of resources primarily.”

His budget is only about $5 million. That’s why he said those partnerships and grants are so vital.

A few weeks ago President Trump could have freed up more federal money for to battle the epidemic. But he didn’t declare the opioid crisis a national emergency.

“More federal funds would be good. We don’t have them,” said McClelland.

When pushed if the president should have freed up those funds, he said, “I’m not going to second guess him on that.”

McClelland said this year laid the infrastructure in the opioid fight. But the road is long.

“Actually, we haven’t peaked,” he said, saying the epidemic will only get worse.

When will it start to get better? “I don’t know. I can’t predict,” he said.

“There are no quick solutions to it. There are no perfect solutions to it. And if we wait for perfect solutions, we’re never going to do anything.”

Next year’s focus turns to more treatment options and centers. But the mountains remain daunting: stigma associated with opioid addiction, high risk of relapse, astronomical cost and an end not in sight.

Many lives have been lost. Many others struggle to survive, leaving McClelland with a final message.

“We just can’t encourage them enough to get help. Reach out,” he said.

McClelland said the fight doesn’t end with recovery. He said there needs to be a way to keep people on that path.

The two keys are a decent place to live and a job.

McClelland said with so many in-demand jobs in Indiana, he hopes to work with companies to help these Hoosiers.