• Drug crisis poses challenge for Indiana lawmakers

    The most vexing issue for the General Assembly in the coming session may not have anything to do with roads or RFRA.

    In a recent conversation I had with State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, he spent some time discussing the state's drug crisis. The issue came to the forefront this year with Indiana earning dubious recognition for having the most methamphetamine labs in the country.

    We're not talking about the giant labs run by crime syndicates, as portrayed in the TV series "Breaking Bad." State Police say 99 percent of the labs are run by addicts. In one case, an active meth lab was found in a backpack in the bathroom of a Muncie Walmart. Part of the problem, Moseley said, is people who go from pharmacy to pharmacy purchasing the allergy medicine used to manufacture meth.

    Last month, House Speaker Brian Bosma said he would advocate for a bill requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine, the ingredient in current over-the-counter medicines like Claritin-D and Allegra-D. It would be an inconvenience to allergy sufferers, but it's a measure that has proven successful in other states in reducing meth manufacturing.

    Moseley also touched on the issue of heroin addiction and the public health approach of needle exchanges. Indiana ended its ban on needle exchangesthis year, but only in response to an HIV outbreak in southern Indiana's Scott County. Though needle exchanges have been proven successful in reducing the spread of infectious diseases, the Scott County program was approved reluctantly on a temporary basis. State approval would be required to expand the program to another county.

    Why not allow counties to institute needle exchange programs on their own if county health departments deem it a benefit? One only needs to look at the zero-tolerance approach exemplified by the search and seizure case before the Indiana Supreme Court where a man was convicted of a felony from having a single painkiller pill he collected among the possessions of a deceased relative. 

    The slow walk by Indiana of the obvious needle exchange solution reflects the central problem in Indiana's unsuccessful approach to drugs. The notion that drugs are a law enforcement issue first and a public health issue second needs to be reversed. If Indiana is to reverse the grim statistics, lawmakers must take a bold approach that puts public health and help for addicts first.

  • It's time to talk about drug policy reform in Indiana

    In 2014, in response to a growing heroin problem, some Porter County police began carrying naloxone, a drug that curbs the effects of opioid overdoses. Now, with heroin-related deaths in Lake County numbering in the dozens over the last three years, the county is considering equipping their police with naloxone kits.

    Last year, you might also recall, saw an HIV outbreak downstate caused by needle-sharing. This resulted in the establishment of the state’s first needle exchange program.

    These actions by the state and local authorities are the right things to do. Still, they are responses to problems becoming too big to ignore, as opposed to a solution that fixes the overall problem. Indiana’s drug laws are still firmly of the mentality of the old War on Drugs, a policy that seems to have less proponents every year.

    In creating the needle exchange, Governor Pence and Republicans swallowed their strong anti-drug stance and acknowledged such a measure was necessary. That was a good start, but this opportunity should be taken to address major drug policy reform as a whole, specifically treating drug use as a crime instead of a health issue.

    We wouldn’t be the first state, either. One of the most high-profile states to do so was New Jersey, which replaced prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses with court-ordered treatment. Notably, this change had bipartisan support in the state and was signed into law by Republican Governor and current Presidential candidate Chris Christie.

    It might be early to judge New Jersey’s success or failure. However, the country of Portugal notably reformed their drug policy top to bottom in 2001. The results weren’t perfect (no policy is, really), but certainly much more effective than a hard-line drug war.

    In New Jersey, treatment for one person costs about half that of incarcerating them. But more than saving tax dollars, it’s simply more humane to treat an addict and give them another chance at life, rather than locking them away and forcing them to live with the stigma of a felony conviction when they leave prison.

    I doubt you’ll see much debate about this subject in this Indiana’s gubernatorial campaign this year, but it’s a conversation that should be had.