By Dr. Jennifer Walthall

Indiana’s opioid epidemic has reached crisis proportions and, unfortunately, we have not yet reached the peak of the issue. The magnitude is demonstrated by the fact that our state saw a 500 percent increase in the number of overdose deaths from heroin since 2000.

In 2008, overdose deaths became more common than deaths due to motor vehicle collisions. We must take action now or the peak will be insurmountable.

Substance use disorder does not discriminate –- gender, age, geography, race, ethnicity –- all of us are affected and must work together for short- and long-term solutions.

Gov. Eric Holcomb made attacking the drug epidemic one of his administration’s five pillars and has tasked our dedicated Family and Social Services Administation team to work with other state agencies to focus on strategies that will attack this crisis head-on.

Our work was slingshot forward by the determined efforts of our general assembly this spring and the strategic approach led by Jim McClelland, the governor’s hand-picked executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement.

Now our state has taken a major step with the addition of five opioid treatment programs in Indiana. These programs bring the total across the state to 19 and add considerable capacity to a network of programs that in 2016 treated more than 10,000 Hoosiers.

The treatment programs provide what is called medication-assisted treatment or “MAT,” which means using FDA-approved medications in concert with evidence-based therapy to help people manage their addictions so that they can maintain the benefits of recovery.

In addition to medication, these programs provide counseling and other support services that help Hoosiers recover. Extraordinary evidence shows that patients receiving medication assisted treatment are more likely to remain in treatment and to reduce opioid use than those who do not.

Additionally, this treatment has been associated with reductions in the spread of HIV and criminal behavior. Ensuring that medication-assisted treatment is an available option to Indiana communities is an important task.

We used a data-driven approach to locate the five new treatment centers by reviewing locations of overdose deaths, drug-seizure data from law enforcement and data from hospital emergency rooms.

The new centers will be located in Allen, Johnson, Monroe, Tippecanoe and Vigo counties to expand access beyond the areas of the current 14 locations.

In addition, effective Aug. 1, most Indiana Medicaid members, including all Healthy Indiana Plan members, will have coverage for all services provided in an opioid treatment program, including coverage of methadone for opioid use disorder.

This treatment hasn’t been covered by Indiana Medicaid in the past. We believe this has built a barrier to treatment for many Hoosiers who need it and will benefit from it.

Finally, we recognize that substance use disorders are chronic disorders of the brain. It is essential to work to reduce the shame and stigma associated with substance use disorders.

This is why it is so important to provide coverage and treatment options. We acknowledge that many people with substance use disorders also experience co-occurring mental health problems, so counseling and other therapy is crucial.

The combination of expanding substance use services to include services provided by opioid treatment programs, while also vastly increasing the capacity of these programs across the state, will help connect thousands of additional Hoosiers with treatment and allow them to return to a healthy and productive life. We are proud to be partners in building these solutions.

Dr. Jennifer Walthall is secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.