IU launches comprehensive action on addiction, partnering with Gov. Holcomb, IU Health, others

In state where overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, IU's $50 million effort is one of nation's most comprehensive anti-addiction collaborations

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie has announced IU's commitment to invest $50 million to collaborate with community partners to prevent and reduce addictions in Indiana.

Announced alongside Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb and IU Health President and CEO Dennis Murphy, the initiative -- Responding to the Addictions Crisis -- is part of IU's bicentennial Grand Challenges Program.

Utilizing IU's seven campuses across the state, and in partnership with state officials, IU Health, Eskenazi Health and others, this statewide initiative is one of the nation's largest and most comprehensive state-based responses to the opioid addiction crisis -- and the largest led by a university.

The Responding to the Addictions Crisis initiative will engage a broad array of IU's world-class faculty, as well as IU's business, nonprofit and government partners. Working together, the initiative aims to implement a comprehensive plan to reduce deaths from addiction, ease the burden of drug addiction on Hoosier communities, and improve health and economic outcomes.

The interdisciplinary team of IU researchers participating in this multifaceted effort will be led by IU School of Nursing Dean Robin Newhouse.

"Governor Holcomb has identified addressing the urgent substance abuse crisis, which is taking an increasingly severe toll on the health of far too many Hoosiers, as a key priority for the state, and aligning the resources of the state, including its universities, as a critical step in achieving that priority," McRobbie said.

"Through this vitally important initiative, Indiana University will bring to bear its formidable and extensive clinical and research capabilities, large statewide footprint in medicine and health care, and powerful community and industry partnerships to achieve maximum impact toward the goal of more effectively treating patients and implementing preventative substance abuse programs."

Holcomb has made tackling the opioid crisis one of his highest priorities and established within his office the position of executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement to coordinate the state's efforts. The governor has called on all Hoosiers to collaborate to reduce the drug scourge.

This newest Grand Challenge initiative is IU's response to this charge, affirming the university's mission as a partner to Hoosier communities. The IU initiative will focus on five areas: ground-level data collection and analysis; training and education; policy analysis and development; addictions science; and community and workforce development.

"It will take all of us working together to fight this epidemic and help those struggling with addiction to get on the road to recovery," Holcomb said. "I commend IU for their leadership and commitment to reversing the addictions crisis. IU's investment and strong partnership will help our state provide expanded resources and support for Hoosiers and communities that need it most."

Indiana is one of four states where the fatal drug overdose rate has more than quadrupled since 1999. Hoosiers are now more likely to die from a drug overdose than a car accident. According to the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, the total cost of drug overdoses in Indiana tops $1 billion annually, measured in medical expenses and lifetime earnings losses.

Indiana is not alone in this crisis. In 2016, more people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. than the total number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

Responding to the Addictions Crisis will provide working and aspiring health care professionals from all disciplines with the training, educational resources and certification programs necessary to address the significant shortage of addictions professionals in the Hoosier state. Robust continuing education programs will help those already working in communities across the state to broaden their skills to help more Hoosiers. And working with local public health officials, IU researchers will build county-specific databases to help community officials better understand the scope of this epidemic. They will also research the genetic, socioeconomic and biological forces that drive addiction in order to better understand how to prevent and treat it.

The $50 million IU is investing in the initiative comes from reprioritizing existing funds.

"By making more strategic use of resources, focusing on critical issues facing the state and working closely with key partners, we hope to achieve a greater impact In Indiana and around the world," said Fred H. Cate, IU vice president for research and Distinguished Professor.

Last year, Indiana University announced its first Grand Challenges project, the Precision Health Initiative. The initiative has the bold goal of curing at least one cancer and one childhood disease, as well as finding ways to prevent one chronic illness and one neurodegenerative disease, all by 2020.

The second initiative -- Prepared for Environmental Change -- was announced in May 2017. It brings together a broad, bipartisan coalition of government, business, nonprofit and community leaders to help Indiana better prepare for the challenges that environmental change brings to our economy, health and livelihood.

Additional quotes

  • Jim McClelland, executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement, State of Indiana: "Hoosier communities are in jeopardy. The addiction epidemic is a very real threat to the well-being of our families, businesses, and our state's social services and health care systems. Only together can we create and implement community-centric policies that will help alleviate this epidemic and help those recovering from substance use disorder again become productive citizens of our state."
  • Dennis Murphy, president and CEO of IU Health: "As the largest health care system in the state, we take responsibility for being a part of the solution for behavioral health issues, including addiction. Our goal is to provide patients more places to access high-quality addiction and pain management services through our regional hospitals and physician offices."
  • Robin Newhouse, principal investigator, Responding to the Addictions Crisis; dean, IU School of Nursing: "A challenge that is this complex requires a comprehensive response. Together with our partners and community, we are responding with an integrated, multidisciplinary approach that can help us understand and address the factors that contribute to addiction, rather than a one-project-at-a-time approach. Harnessing the power of IU research, with our partners we will work with individuals, communities, organizations and policy makers using many strategies. For example, our approach will help us better understand the biological and neurological underpinnings of addiction, but we're also going to dramatically increase the number of trained clinicians across the health professions and in communities across the state, including addictions counselors. And while we will develop better treatment options, we're also examining policies that make it harder for people and families facing addiction to get help."
  • Jessica Nickel, president and CEO, Addiction Policy Forum: "The complexity of this crisis requires a comprehensive response, which should include collaboration between institutions with the influence and capacity to effect change. Leveraging the strength of a university with a statewide footprint, the influence of state policymakers and the patient reach of the state's primary health care providers, this initiative shows great potential to identify ways in which a state can address the core drivers of the addiction crisis."

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