Column: Together we can combat rising heroin use and prescription drug abuse


Commentary by U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly 

In many Hoosier communities, including Carmel, heroin use, addiction and overdose deaths are on the rise.


Prescription drug abuse also remains a serious and related problem, as many heroin users report having first abused prescription drugs before turning to heroin.

As your U.S. Senator, I am partnering with others to fight back against heroin use and prescription drug abuse. I am working and will continue to work to leverage federal resources to benefit state and local drug prevention efforts and provide support for law enforcement.

Recently, I brought together stakeholders in Hamilton and Boone Counties to discuss the ongoing and emerging effect of prescription drug abuse and the rise in heroin use throughout central Indiana.

I heard from law enforcement, school leaders and elected officials about the challenges they face keeping drugs off our streets and the need to educate young people. During this meeting, I let everyone know that we’re all in this together — local, state and federal officials — and stressed that by partnering we can develop the best ideas as to how to further combat the increased levels of heroin use and ongoing prescription abuse in our communities.

To help fight the drug and heroin epidemic from the federal level, I recently introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). The Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education and Enforcement Act would require the development of best practices for prescribing pain medication and related pain management, would provide law enforcement with tools to fight heroin use and would establish a national awareness campaign to highlight the dangerous link between prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction.

As roughly four out of every five new heroin users say they became addicted to prescription pain medication before using heroin, our bill would create a task force to develop recommended prescribing practices for pain medication that would help ensure proper pain management for patients, while also preventing prescription opioid abuse. Additionally, our legislation would authorize the Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program — a competitive grant program that helps states improve their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs — and reauthorize the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, which supports law enforcement programs at the state and local levels, including many anti-drug initiatives.

The legislation also calls for a renewed emphasis on public awareness campaigns. While people are becoming more cognizant of the problem, it’s still clear from conversations I have had with local school leaders, elected officials and law enforcement that more awareness is needed.

In particular, we need to do more to educate students and parents about the dangers of heroin.

In addition to my legislation, I am also supportive of programs like the Drug Free Communities Program, which focuses on youth substance abuse prevention, and Drug Courts and Veterans Treatment Courts, which provide alternatives to traditional sentencing procedures for certain non-violent drug offenders.

In the coming months, I will continue to work with my colleagues from both parties as well as continue listening to local leaders and concerned citizens to determine what common sense steps we can take to forcefully confront the growing presence of heroin use and prescription drug abuse.

Our office stands ready to assist Carmel, other communities in Hamilton County and cities and towns across the state to identify possible grant opportunities and other federal resources that can help address these problems. Working together to leverage our local, state and federal resources, I am hopeful we can achieve this goal.

Joe Donnelly is a Democratic Senator representing the state of Indiana. Send comments to [email protected]