Indiana stands at the height of a twin addiction epidemic fueled by the rise of opioids and stubbornly persistent tobacco use in our state.
Today more Hoosiers die from drug overdoses than auto accidents each year. The death toll from smoking equates to more than two fatal 747 airplane crashes each month. And we’re outpacing other states in our abuse of opioids and tobacco, ranking among the nation’s worst for the number of drug overdose deaths and percentage of residents who smoke.
These findings – captured in two reports just released by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation – should provide a wake-up call to action.
Elected leaders, from mayors to U.S. senators, have recognized the severity of these challenges and taken steps to address them, including assembling expert task forces, securing dollars for expanded treatment and prevention, strengthening statewide data collection systems, and more. It’s time to build on that momentum.
Collectively – as state and civic leaders, businesses, health care providers, schools, colleges and universities, charitable organizations, and everyday Hoosiers – we must redouble our efforts to address these dual challenges. The large scale and high stakes of Indiana’s addiction epidemic demand that all of us take action.
The number of overdose deaths, driven largely by heroin and prescription pain medicine, has risen sharply in Indiana to 1,152 in 2014. More than 11,000 Indiana residents die annually because of tobacco use, and another 1,400 die from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the new reports, which were authored by the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI in Indianapolis.
Opioids and tobacco also bring a severe economic toll. Drug overdose deaths in 2014 cost more than $1.4 billion in medical costs and lost lifetime earnings for victims, and tobacco puts an estimated $4.2 billion annual burden on the state’s health care system. Smoking also costs Indiana employers $2.6 billion annually due to factors like lost productivity, absenteeism and greater disability claims.
Behind all of these numbers are myriad stories – of injured athletes addicted to prescription pain medicine, employees whose frequent smoke breaks damage productivity, and family members devastated by a loved one’s heroin use.
A broad range of actions will be required to address these issues, including strategies to prevent opioid and tobacco use and efforts to better treat those already impacted by these addictions.
On the prevention front, we must increase educational efforts, especially in schools, colleges and universities, and the workplace. By growing awareness of the dangers of opioids and tobacco, we would prevent many Hoosiers from starting down a treacherous path. Yet our state lacks adequate resources and infrastructure for delivering such programming – a shortage we must address.
Efforts to decrease tobacco access, such as raising the cigarette tax and increasing the legal smoking age, deter usage, as similar efforts across the country have shown. Indiana also should consider these actions as we look to curb the impact of tobacco addiction.
And as our state builds prevention strategies, it’s equally important to ensure those impacted by opioid and tobacco addiction have the resources they need for recovery. This includes increasing access to the life-saving drug naloxone so that lay and first responders can use it to treat overdose victims, and building capacity within Indiana’s healthcare system for comprehensive treatment options, since the right treatment is often difficult to find. We also must work to create a pipeline of professionals trained to handle substance use disorders and develop technology to improve access to treatment.
Indiana, like other states, faces additional addiction-related challenges, including methamphetamine, alcohol and more, and these also deserve attention. But focusing on opioids and tobacco is especially critical now, given our state’s rampant growth in opioid use and the broad reach of tobacco.
Opioid and tobacco addiction are not just a public health issue. They affect all of us and are a detriment to the economic well-being and quality of life in our communities. Addressing them requires all of us, too.
We have the opportunity to address Indiana’s addiction epidemic before it grows further. Let’s work together to seize this opportunity and position Indiana for a healthier and more prosperous future.
Claire Fiddian-Green is president and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.
Dr. Paul Halverson is founding dean of the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI in Indianapolis.