A new grant seeks to address what the Fairbanks Foundation calls “a massive shortage of trained specialists who can help those struggling with heroin and prescription drug addiction.”
The heroin and opioid addiction crisis hit Indiana fast, and it hit hard. Medical professionals, emergency responders, public officials and many others have spent recent years fighting against a particularly cruel dependency that has shattered thousands upon thousands of lives.
Perhaps the toughest lesson of the battle has been the realization that there is nothing close to a quick fix. Smart legislation at the state and federal levels has helped, as have local policy changes aimed at more effectively treating overdoses and addiction, but much more work remains.
There are countless ways to go about tackling the problem, and attacking it from many angles with adequate resources is critical. But when I’ve talked to people on the front lines — from doctors and other advocates to those fighting their addictions — the issues of treatment and prevention have come up more than any other. And the bottom line is this: We’re not doing enough on either of those fronts.
Last year, an important report from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation made clear that a lack of access to high quality treatment programs and professionals has been a particularly glaring problem in Indiana. The problem goes beyond cost and insurance coverage, as experts in Indiana have pointed to an alarming shortage of licensed medical professionals who can effectively treat people facing heroin and painkiller addictions.
In response, the Fairbanks Foundation will announce a grant this week to help finance the creation of an addiction-treatment graduate school program in Central Indiana, one that the organization says will initially graduate 50 new clinical social workers per year. That, a Fairbanks statement says, “will allow an additional 3,000 Hoosier patients to be served each year,” while also creating a template for other regions of the state to follow.
The ultimate goal is to make it easier for more patients to get treatment quickly and to eliminate a treatment gap that often forces people to wait weeks for an appointment.
“Oftentimes that gap leads to people not getting the treatment they need, and that they were ready and willing to receive,” Fairbanks Foundation president and CEO Claire Fiddian-Green told me. “There’s a moment when many people have a wake-up call and want treatment, but if they have to wait several weeks that window may close.”
A recent report from Pew Charitable Trusts found Indiana to be poorly equipped to “meet the medical-assisted needs” of residents facing addiction. At the same time, Indiana ranks in the top third of states in the number of overdoses. The problem can be found across Indiana, in rural, urban and suburban communities. It’s led to a sharp increase in babies being born dependent, in the number of children being removed from the homes, and it has had a tremendous impact on local and state budgets and on employers.
“It’s in the best interests of our state to take care of our people, people who are suffering,” Fiddian-Green said. “But there is also an economic element to making sure people can receive the treatment they receive.”
Under the new grant, Ascend Indiana, an arm of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, and Community Health Network, will begin building a graduate program with a local college that has not yet been named. Acsend CEO Jason Kloth said in a statement that the program will not only help many patients but also boost his group’s mission of creating “pipelines of talent in areas where Indiana faces a pressing workforce need.”
In recent years, many Hoosiers suffering from addiction, as well as their loved ones, have played important roles by bravely sharing their stories, raising awareness and reminding all of us of the human toll of addiction. They’ve helped us all better understand the issue, and the pain it brings to so many families. One thing I’ve learned from hearing many of these stories is that those living through them understand better than most what changes are needed.
Time and again, I’ve heard the same thing. Those fighting addiction need more and better access to treatment. And while there are no easy paths toward big improvements, efforts like this one will have an impact that is lasting and profound.