Addressing the Opioid & Heroin Epidemics

As too many Hoosiers have come to know first-hand, prescription opioid abuse and heroin use have created a public health crisis. This epidemic has harmed communities throughout Indiana—large and small, urban and rural. For several years, Joe has helped lead the charge to address opioid addiction in Indiana and across the country. Several of Joe's bipartisan provisions became law in 2016 as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). His provisions were adopted from his bipartisan legislation to update best prescribing practices and raise public awareness, as well as a bipartisan provision he authored that would encourage first responder units to connect individuals who receive naloxone with treatment and other necessary services. CARA also expands access to treatment and support for individuals in recovery.

Joe believes that it will take everyone working together to stem the tide of this epidemic, and that is why he has done the following:

  • Met with federal, state, and local public health officials, doctors, and pharmacists to talk about the role providers play in helping address the opioid abuse problem;
  • Met with and listened to impacted families, parent advocates, and treatment providers; 
  • Worked with Indiana University School of Medicine to learn about its efforts to educate and train medical students, residents, and physicians to confront the opioid epidemic; and 
  • Introduced bipartisan legislation with then-U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and supported bipartisan companion legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05). 

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA)

Joe helped the Senate pass CARA in March 2016, and it was signed into law on July 22, 2016. CARA is bipartisan legislation that would provide states and local communities with tools to prevent and treat drug addiction and support individuals in recovery.

CARA also includes provisions adopted from legislation that Joe and then-Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced in 2015, including an effort to bring experts together to update best practices for pain management and an awareness campaign to educate providers, patients, and the public on the dangers of prescription opioid abuse and its connection to heroin. 

Joe also offered an amendment to CARA that was adopted by the Senate by unanimous voice vote. His amendment clarifies that first responder units receiving CARA grant funding for naloxone programs can use those funds to establish outreach coordinators who would ensure that individuals who receive naloxone also receive in-person follow-ups to help them get connected with treatment or other necessary services. Indianapolis EMS began a similar outreach program in winter 2016 designed to connect overdose victims who receive naloxone with the help that they need.

The 21st Century Cures Act 

Joe long has said that it’s important to fund programs and initiatives to confront the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics. Joe called on his Senate colleagues to pass necessary, emergency funding to address these epidemics. In September 2016, Joe helped the Senate pass short-term legislation to keep the government running, which included $37 million in new funding to begin implementation of CARA. These funds are helping jumpstart four grant programs in CARA focused on prevention, treatment, and recovery. As the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics continued to devastate communities in Indiana and across our country, Joe advocated for additional funding to confront this public health emergency and for Congress to act quickly by including resources to fight the opioid epidemic through the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act.

Joe helped the Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act and the legislation was signed into law by President Obama in December 2016. The law includes $1 billion to be spent over two years to help combat opioid abuse and heroin use. Funding will be distributed to states to help them address these drug epidemics. Joe has actively fought for both new efforts to help with prevention, treatment, and recovery and the funding necessary to support those programs.

Marion County and LaPorte County HIDTA Designations

As Indiana and our country fight the drug epidemics that are devastating families and communities, Joe was proud to support Marion County and LaPorte County’s successful applications for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area designations from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Joe helped Marion County and LaPorte County welcome these federal designations, in the fall of 2016, joining law enforcement officials for announcements to discuss how these resources will help law enforcement.

With this additional federal support, Marion County and LaPorte County will be able to increase coordinated drug enforcement operations, support prevention efforts, and improve public health and safety‎. 

The Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act of 2015

Joe and then-Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) reintroduced bipartisan legislation in April 2015 to address prescription pain medication abuse and heroin use as part of their ongoing efforts to tackle the nation’s growing drug abuse epidemics. Their bill, The Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act of 2015, took a multi-pronged approach to help prevent opioid abuse and overdose deaths and built on similar legislation they originally introduced in 2014. The Ayotte-Donnelly bill aimed to: better enable healthcare providers and public health officials to prevent prescription drug abuse; support law enforcement efforts to get heroin off the streets; allow more first responders access to life-saving naloxone, and raise awareness among health care providers, patients, and the public regarding prescription opioid abuse and heroin. Provisions in this legislation were included in CARA.

Protecting Our Infants Act

Joe supported bipartisan legislation that will help pregnant women overcome opioid abuse, prevent prenatal opioid abuse, and assist newborns suffering from opioid withdrawal and painful symptoms associated with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). This bill was enacted into law in November 2015. 

According to the most recent studies, there are a growing number of newborns who are suffering from drug dependency. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April 2015 found the rate of neonatal ICU admissions for babies experiencing withdrawal almost quadrupled between 2004 and 2013.  According to a study published in the Journal of Perinatology, a baby is born with drug withdrawal every 25 minutes in the U.S.

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) Award

Joe was recognized by a national anti-drug coalition for his continued efforts to fight the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics. He received the Congressional Leadership Award from the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) in February 2016. CADCA’s Congressional Leadership Award recognizes members of Congress who have championed strategies to enhance substance abuse prevention, education, treatment, and research.

Recommendations to the Governor's Task Force

In response to the announcement that then-Indiana Governor Pence was establishing a Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment, and Prevention, Joe provided recommendations in October 2015 to the Task Force on short- and long-term responses to Indiana's addiction problems. 

Several of Joe's recommendations to the Governor's Task Force are being implemented, including an increased focus on INSPECT and advancing prescriber engagement and education.