By Olivia Covington
INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation aimed at reducing the abuse of prescription drugs and heroin in Indiana has been re-introduced in Congress.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, said he is resurrecting the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education and Enforcement Act because abuse of opioids and heroin continues to rise nationwide.
“Sadly, prescription drug abuse is a serious problem, not just in Indiana, but around the country,” Donnelly said.
The legislation, which Donnelly said is a bipartisan effort that is also sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, has five parts.
First, it would create the Pain Management Best Practices Interagency Task Force, which would look at best practices for pain medication prescriptions and management. Donnelly said there is a “clear correlation” between prescription drug abuse and eventual heroin use.
Second, the bill would create the Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which would give grants to support other prescription drug monitoring programs.
“If we can do a better job in prescription monitoring programs, I think that can help right at the root cause,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly said 80 percent of heroin users admit to abusing prescription drugs earlier in their lives.
Donnelly’s bill would also reauthorize the Byrne Justice Assistance, which would give grants to support local law enforcement in their efforts to combat the drug problem.
“Opioid addiction is difficult to treat,” Donnelly said. “It’s critical to support the efforts to prevent it.”
The bill would also start a national awareness campaign to shed light on prescription drug abuse throughout the country.
New to the legislation this year is a provision that would allow first responders to administer the drug Nalaxone to patients who have overdosed on heroin.
Donnelly said according to the World Health Organization, 20,000 heroin-related deaths could be prevented each year if the use of Nalaxone were legalized nationwide.
“We’re trying to prevent them from dying there on the spot,” Donnelly said.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a similar bill into Indiana law earlier this month. Senate Bill 406 allows individuals to administer either Nalaxone or Narcan, another anti-overdose drug, if a family member or friend overdoses.
Previous Indiana law only allowed health professionals, law enforcement officers or emergency workers to administer the drugs.
“With the rise of heroin addiction across our state, this important legislation will make available overdose intervention treatments and will save lives in Indiana,” Pence said in a statement.
The issue of overdoses caused by intravenous drug use has been in the forefront of legislators’ minds in Indiana after an HIV outbreak in Scott County in March caused Pence to declare a state of emergency.
Donnelly said just last week, 142 residents of Austin, Indiana, a town in Scott County, were diagnosed with HIV. The town has a total population of 4,200. This surge in diagnosed cases has been liked to the sharing of infected needles among Opana users.
Donnelly said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “have been able to trace family members swapping needles at the same time and taking these drugs.”
In an effort to combat the HIV crisis in Scott County, Pence authorized a temporary needle exchange problem. The program allows “high risk” counties that have a high rate of Hepatitis C to send clean needles to its residents.
Donnelly said 80 percent of HIV patients are also suffering from Hepatitis C.
Pence said he is opposed to creating a statewide exchange once the temporary program expires.
“I do no enter into this lightly,” Pence said when he signed the temporary exchange into law. “I do not support needle exchange as anti-drug policy, but this is a public health emergency.”
But Donnelly said he would support a needle exchange program in the state.
“I am hopeful the governor will consider extending that temporary cycle for at least another 30 days,” Donnelly said.
While Donnelly said the cost of his bill has not been added up yet, he said the cost of HIV treatment is worth creating preventative legislation.
Donnelly said HIV and Hepatitis C patients have to pay $500 thousand in medical bills. In Scott County alone, Donnelly said it will cost nearly $71 million to treat all the patients of the outbreak.
Donnelly said he and Ayotte are “going to do everything possible” to see their bill passed during this Congressional session.
“This isn’t an Indiana problem only, this isn’t just a rural problem, this can happen anywhere.” Donnelly said. “I don’t know a senator who wouldn’t want to try to make sure this gets done.”
Olivia Covington is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.