To call the nation’s opioid addiction crisis an “epidemic” is perhaps cliché. It also might be an understatement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdoses involving opioids kill more than 40,000 people a year. For many Hoosiers and their communities, the crisis is nothing short of devastating.
Many of you know that Indiana University has made a major commitment to combatting this epidemic through its Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenges Initiative. I am proud that the IU McKinney School of Law is playing a large role in this effort.
Professor Nicolas Terry, executive director of our Hall Center for Law and Health, is helping direct IU’s Scientific Leadership Team. IU Fairbanks School of Public Health Professor Ross Silverman, who holds an appointment in the law school, is also a lead on the team. In addition, Aila Hoss, a visiting professor at IU McKinney, is an IU Grand Challenge Fellow and brings significant expertise to the team’s analysis from her prior work as an attorney for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program. The Grand Challenge project is also providing educational opportunities. Already, two students have served as research assistants to the team — Rebecca Critser, who graduated in May 2018, along with second-year student Emily Beukema. I anticipate that more students will have occasions to assist in the months ahead.
Our school hopes to highlight the issue and possible solutions in a number of ways, leveraging not just our strength in the health law arena, but also in state and local government law. The school’s annual Program on Law and State Government Fellowship Symposium will address the topic during the event on October 19, as one of our student fellows discusses state government responses to workforce-related challenges created by the opioid crisis. On November 2, our annual Cohen & Malad Fellowship Symposium will delve into policy issues related to the opioid addiction epidemic as well.
In addition, members of the Grand Challenge team traveled to Washington, D.C., in April to visit congressional offices on Capitol Hill. They met with members of the state’s congressional delegation and key health policy advisers. More recently, Professor Terry testified on May 23 before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging during a hearing titled, “Preventing and Treating Opioid Misuse Among Older Americans.” He spoke before the committee after U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly helped facilitate IU’s participation in the hearing, following the university’s new policy report on addressing the opioid epidemic. In committee testimony, Professor Terry noted that the opioid crisis is “continually morphing” and that it should be no surprise that older adults are also suffering, making up about 25 percent of the long-term prescription opioid users. In a story published here in the Indiana Lawyer, Professor Terry correctly called the opioid crisis “a wicked problem.”
Many of our efforts are focusing on recommendations such as developing more robust treatment options and the expansion of services such as job training and safe housing assistance to help support those who are recovering from substance abuse disorder. The Grand Challenge team has suggested programs that will reduce the stigma of substance abuse disorder and broader drug take-back programs. They also have recommended that local, state and federal governments consider increasing the availability of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, encouraging the work of syringe exchange programs, and offering more support to first responders. Closer to home, the team has fleshed out ideas for improving Indiana’s Good Samaritan and drug paraphernalia laws, changes allowing those with substance abuse disorder to receive Medicaid services, and increased care for children born with neonatal abstinence disease.
“It is vital that policymakers put evidence-based harm reduction and treatments at the center of our policy discussion in order to create meaningful progress toward solving this epidemic,” Professor Terry said. “After extensive research, we believe these recommendations will be most readily implementable and impactful to the communities that adopt them. These are necessary changes. The reality is that some current laws and policies are barriers to the implementation of effective interventions.”
At the law school — indeed, across the university — we often talk about how our faculty, students and staff can improve the state and society. I am proud to see our law school helping to make good on that promise.•
Andrew R. Klein is the Paul E. Beam Professor of Law and dean of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The opinions expressed are those of the author.