IUSM faculty, leaders offer insight to legislators about opioid epidemic

April 14, 2016

IU School of Medicine faculty and residents met Monday with Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly and Representative Susan Brooks to discuss issues surrounding the growing opioid drug epidemic, including steps being taken by the school to improve the education and awareness of medical students, residents, and practicing physicians about pain management, prescriptions, and substance abuse.

Sen. Joe Donnelly, Rep. Susan Brooks and Dr. MacKie discuss improving medical education to address the growing opioid drug epidmic.  | Photo By Eric Schoch

Donnelly and Brooks have been working together to address the opioid and heroin epidemics, hosting a roundtable on the topic at IUPUI in September 2015 and working on related proposals in their respective legislative chambers.

Appearing with Brooks and Donnelly at a post-briefing news conference, IUSM's Palmer MacKie, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine and of clinical neurology, noted that physician prescribing practices have contributed to the problem following past medical profession guidelines that suggested significant numbers of patients were not receiving adequate treatments for pain.

The result, he said, has been "a cascade of events that led to many people being dependent and addicted on the opioids."

Dr. MacKie, who is director of the Eskenazi Health Integrative Pain Center, noted that efforts to provide "safer and more meaningful pain management" encompass a broad range of activities, including the school's curriculum redesign, basic and clinical investigators researching addiction, pain and treatment alternatives, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force and BitterPill.in.gov, and more.

“The opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics are devastating communities across our state, and it will take all of us--including doctors, medical students, and other prescribers--working together to address these public health crises," Donnelly said.

Brooks noted, “Eighty percent of heroin addictions begin with abuse of a legal opioid. Addressing the over-prescription of this type of pain medication is a critical piece of any response to the crisis, and prescribers and medical professionals are often the first line of defense.”

Jay L. Hess, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the IU School of Medicine and vice president for university clinical affairs for IU, said, “The IU School of Medicine has long supported the education of medical students, residents, fellows, and other providers across the state on this pressing public health issue. We recognize the ongoing needs for additional pain treatment specialists, addiction therapy specialists and treatment programs for our citizens. These important resources will require widespread support at the local, state, and national level if we are to reach the desired goals for appropriate treatment and prevention within the Hoosier state.”

In addition to Dr. MacKie, those meeting with Rep. Brooks and Sen. Donnelly were Randall L. Stevens, M.D., assistant professor of clinical family medicine at IUSM-Terre Haute; Matthew Miles, M.D., chief resident, quality and patient safety; residents Rachel Holliday, M.D. and Adam Miller, M.D.; and Chris Harle, Ph.D., associate professor of health policy and management at the Fairbanks School of Public Health.