Surgeon General: Indiana can do more to combat opioid epidemic
State has made progress fighting opioid addiction, but physicians need better tools and training.
WASHINGTON — Indiana is making progress but can do more to combat the opioid abuse epidemic that has been driven in part by prescription painkillers, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Thursday.
Physicians who prescribe pain medication need better training and information about the risks of opioids, Murthy told reporters in a call organized by Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
Murthy also said he heard during a visit to Indiana in September that the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, which helps prevent patients from shopping around for multiple prescriptions, could be more accessible to all providers and could have more up-to-date information.
“I know Indiana has made progress,” he said, “but more still needs to be done.”
Indiana is one of four states where the drug overdose mortality rate has quadrupled since 1999.
Southeastern Indiana became the face of the national opioid epidemic this year when more than 180 people in or near Scott County were diagnosed with HIV after sharing needles to inject prescription pain medication.
The misuse of prescription drugs also has contributed to an increase in the use of heroin, to which some addicts turn because heroin can be cheaper.
Americans consume opioid pain relievers at a greater rate than the people of any other nation and twice as much per capita as residents of the second-ranking nation, Canada.
Indiana exceeded all but eight states in the number of pain prescriptions written per 100 people in 2012 — more than enough for every Hoosier to have his or her own bottle of pain pills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know that doctors and nurses and dentists and (physician assistants) who are prescribing opioid medications are doing so with the best of intentions. They want to treat pain,” Murthy said. “But we want to make sure that the prescribers have the tools and the information they need to know who may be at risk of developing an opioid disorder, and also the information they need to prescribe appropriately for each patient.”
In September, Gov. Mike Pence launched a 21-member task force to lead a "fresh approach" to combat drug abuse.
Murthy said he's impressed that Indiana is bringing together law enforcement and health professionals to address the problem.
“This kind of collaboration across sectors is what we need throughout the country, because we know that we aren’t going to incarcerate our way out of this problem,” he said.
President Barack Obama last week announced additional steps to increase access to drug treatment and to expand training for doctors who prescribe opiate painkillers.
Donnelly and Indiana Reps. Susan Brooks and Larry Bucshon are among the members of Congress who have introduced legislation to combat drug addiction.
Murthy said Congress can help by expanding access to the drug that can revive an overdose victim and by making sure states have enough resources to run prescription drug monitoring and treatment programs that combine counseling with medication that helps with withdrawal and addiction. That’s a question not just of money, he said, but also of having enough trained professionals.
Murthy said an addiction specialist he met in Indiana told him how short the supply is.
“Unless we have more addiction specialists helping in the state,” he said, “it’s going to be challenging to address the problem.”