Positive momentum showing in Indiana's fight against the opioid epidemic

A new report said Indiana's numbers are down more than 35% since 2013. Nationally, that average number is only at 33%.

Posted: Jun 19, 2019 10:49 PM
Updated: Jun 20, 2019 3:17 PM

INDIANA, (WLFI) - After years of a constant uphill battle against the opioid epidemic, Indiana is seeing some positive change. New numbers from the American Medical Association show Indiana's opioid prescription drug rates are going down faster than the national average.

The report said Indiana's numbers are down more than 35% since 2013. Nationally, that average number is only at 33%.

"It's a very exciting thing for me to see that Indiana has had a higher impact than the national average in the last few years," said Tricia Lohr, Pharmacy Manager at IU Health Frankfort. 

"Governor Holcomb called for an all hands on deck response to this," said Indiana's Drug Czar, Jim McClelland. His job is to lead the state against substance abuse. He was the first person appointed to this new position created by Governor Holcomb in 2017.

He said just in 2018, Indiana had a healthy decline in opioid prescription rates.

"In 2018 we saw a 12% decrease in the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed," he said. "We also saw a 23% decrease in the number of opioid pills dispensed, which means less of these pills are floating around."

Something that both Lohr and McClelland agreed is a big source of fuel to the flame that is the opioid epidemic. McClelland said doctors have gotten in the habit of prescribing too many opioid pills.

"A friend of mine had an 18-year-old daughter get her wisdom teeth out and the dentist routinely prescribed 30 pills," he said. "My friend said he thinks she only took two and she didn't need anymore."

It's those extra pills laying around that often times end up in the wrong hands.

"Just as a parent, the decrease in opiate prescribing to me is also very important," said Lohr. "A lot of kids that get started on drugs, the way they get it the first time is from a friend or a parent's medicine cabinet."

She said IU Health Frankfort has seen its own successful progress in reducing these numbers. The hospital has seen a 90% decrease in opioid prescriptions coming from their emergency room doctors.

"They're prescribing less and less for something like your wisdom teeth removal and other surgeries because they don't want people to have leftovers in their cabinets," she said.

McClelland said there have also been important legislation that has played a role in bringing down the opioid prescription rates. A bill signed into law by Governor Holcomb in 2017 limits first-time prescriptions of opioids to only seven days.  He said the Indiana State Health Department worked with the Indiana Hospital Association and the Indiana State Medical Association to create new guidelines for how to handle acute pain. Meaning doctors are now having patients try less risky ways of pain management.

"Anything from Ibuprofen, Tylenol, ice packs, hot pads, massages, acupuncture," said Lohr. "All are safer forms of handling acute pain."

Are patients upset that they aren't being prescribed something stronger?

"That was a worry when they were working on those guidelines," she said. "After they get the education of the risks of having the opiates in their house, they are more agreeable to not have them. People know it's safer to use other therapies initially."

Numbers show Indiana is making strides in other areas too. McClelland said the overdose death rate has been on the decline since 2017, but the war against opioids is far from over.

"Those numbers may be going down, but we still have to stay on this path," he said. "We've got some positive momentum now we have to keep building on that positive momentum."

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