New Hope for Those Gripped by Addiction in IN
INDIANAPOLIS - Slightly more than a year since Indiana reduced penalties for drug offenses, a new approach is under way to remove addiction's grip on Indiana.
On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Pence announced the Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment and Prevention, a group that state Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, thinks will knock down the silos between government agencies, police and addiction treatment experts as they try to stem the growing drug problem.
In his work with folks in substance abuse recovery, Merritt said, he's seen how heroin is wrecking communities. He said he believes fast action is needed for those who need help.
"We need to remove the stigma, we need to give hope," he said. "Individuals that are victims of addiction now know that we are looking at this in a comprehensive way. We absolutely don't want anyone to fall behind."
In the most recent numbers, from 1999 to 2009, drug abuse deaths rose 500 percent in Indiana, according to the governor's office. The state ranked 16th highest nationally for the number of overdose deaths in 2013.
Kim Manlove, director of the Indiana Addictions Issues Coalition, hailed the new task force, and said he's optimistic it will encourage those struggling with a drug problem to reach out.
"Instead of it being recognized as a chronic medical disease that it is, people continue to feel that it's a moral failing and that it's a choice," he said. "That shame and stigma often prevents people from seeking the help that they need."
Meanwhile, a year after a revamp of the state's criminal code reduced penalties for drug offenses, Indiana's Prosecuting Attorneys Council is pushing for stronger sentences. Merritt contended that drug traffickers and dealers need harsher penalties, and those with substance-abuse problems need treatment.
"We want to say to those that are encapsulated by addiction that we can either send you to jail or we can send you to recovery," he said, "and I believe that people will choose recovery."
Using an integrated approach, Manlove said, the new task force can help to decriminalize addiction and end a cycle of substance abuse.
"There's a lot of work we have to do in society at large to change perceptions," he said. "We need to get people help and not lock them up and this is a terrific first step."