INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mental health experts told a
legislative study committee Monday that Indiana must do something to tide
an invisible epidemic of prescription drug abuse that drags down not only
hardcore addicts but people suffering from chronic pain and
well-intentioned doctors who are simply out of their depth.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller said prescription drug abuse in the U.S. is
bigger than cocaine, heroin and hallucinogen abuse combined. In 2011,
Indiana had 718 deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs, he said.
The trouble, medical said, is sifting the addicts from patients who
legitimately require powerful painkillers like Oxycontin to function day
"I know it's huge," said Kathleen O'Connell, a commission member who also
works as director of nursing at a Fort Wayne hospital. "As a nurse, I also
know there are a group of people out there who have to take these
medicines every day."
The state needs more doctors trained to recognize the signs of drug
dependency, Dr. Andy Chambers, chief of Indiana University Medical
School's psychiatry department, told the Commission on Mental Health and
While some said that meant more pain experts, Chambers said Indiana has
only a few psychiatrists who are also trained to treat addiction. While
some specialties are lucrative and attract medical students who graduate
with up to $250,000 debt, he said, psychiatry isn't one of them.
One side of the problem, experts said, is addicts who have learned to game
the system by obtaining and filling multiple prescriptions which they then
can either use themselves or sell on the black market. And another side is
general practitioners who are too quick to prescribe powerful painkillers
without realizing the danger of addiction.
"I have seen children as young as 1 year old being prescribed codeine for
an ear infection," O'Connell said.
It isn't rare for a single case of prescription drug addiction to cost the
state $100,000 or more, Chambers said, because most have no money or
insurance of their own.
But with the right mix of mental health treatment and medical care,
addicts can be weaned off their dependency and find their lives, instead
of growing more painful, have improved, said Dr. Lindsay Harmon of IU
Questioned by legislators about what the state is already doing, Andrea
Vern, assistant director of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction,
said Indiana has more than 200 certified community mental health providers
spread across the state.
But, she said: "There's a big difference between the number of providers
we have and the number we have fund for."