Opioid Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Use

As too many Hoosiers have come to know first-hand, prescription opioid abuse and heroin use have created a serious public health crisis. This epidemic has impacted communities together across Indiana—large and small, urban and rural. For nearly two years, Joe has helped lead the charge to address opioid addiction in Indiana and across the country.

He has been working on efforts to improve prescriber practices and prescriber engagement, raise public awareness, expand access to treatment and bring together leaders at the federal, state, and local levels. He has listened to Hoosiers—including families, prescribers, public health professionals, and community stakeholders and worked in a bipartisan manner to ensure we stem the tide of this epidemic.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA)

Senator Donnelly helped the Senate pass CARA on March 10, 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 includes provisions adopted from legislation that Donnelly and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) reintroduced last year including an effort to bring experts together to review, modify, and update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication, as well as a national awareness campaign to educate providers, patients, and the public on the dangers of prescription opioid abuse and its connection to heroin. CARA also includes provisions to expand access to naloxone for law enforcement and first responders, similar to a program included in Donnelly and Ayotte’s legislation, and provisions to strengthen additional prevention efforts and increase access to treatment and recovery services, including initiatives for women, youth, and veterans.

Donnelly also offered an amednemnt to CARA that was adopted in the Senate by unanimous voice vote. His amendment ensures 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 recently began a similar outreach program, designed to connect overdose victims who receive naloxone with the help that they need.

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

Senator Donnelly and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) reintroduced bipartisan legislation in April 2015 that seeks 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, takes a multi-pronged approach to help prevent opioid abuse and overdose deaths and builds on similar legislation they introduced last year. The Ayotte-Donnelly bill aims 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 the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that passed the Senate in March 2016.

Prescribing Practices Roundtable 

Senator Donnelly and U.S. Representative Susan Brooks co-hosted a roundtable discussion at IUPUI on opioid addiction and the role providers can play in helping address this issue and assist their patients. Donnelly and Brooks heard from a range of officials roundtable

to get different perspectives, including Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller,a representative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as doctors, pharmacists, and public health officials.

Protecting Our Infants Act

Senator Donnelly supported bipartisan legislation that will help address growing 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 on November 25, 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 April 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

Senator Donnelly 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 of the new Governor Pence's Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment, and Prevention, Senator Donnelly provided recommendations to the Task Force on short- and long-term responsess to Indiana's addiction problems. 

Many of Senator Donnelly's recommendations to the Governor's Task Force were directed to be implemented by state agencies, including an increased focus on INSPECT and advancing prescriber engagement and education. 

Push for U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing on opioid abuse


As a member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, Senator Donnelly pushed for a hearing on the impact of opioid abuse on seniors. He invited Dr. Jerome Adams, the Indiana State Health Commissioner, to testify before the committee and asked Dr. Adams about prescriber and provider practices as well as treatment and behavioral health access for Hoosiers particularly in rural communities.