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Dean Paul Halverson to testify in D.C. on public health impact of prescription opioid, heroin abuse


INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Paul Halverson, DrPH, founding dean of the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, will testify in Washington, D.C., today before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce on the significant and rapidly increasing public health impact of prescription opioid abuse. The hearing is at 4 p.m.

 The committee is currently considering new legislation sponsored by Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks that aims to address prescription opioid abuse and heroin use. H.R. 2805, the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act of 2015, acknowledges the link between prescription opioid addiction and heroin use (approximately four out of five new heroin users report they became addicted to prescription opioids before they used heroin for the first time) and provides funding for specific programs designed to find the delicate balance between the responsible treatment of pain and the prevention of abuse and addiction. Dean Halverson’s testimony will address the alarming statistics and provide insights on why addiction is truly a public health issue, not just a problem for the individual who is addicted.

“I am honored to be asked to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and to have the opportunity to help shed light on an issue that is impacting so many people,” Halverson said. “The increase in deaths due to overdoses of pain medication and heroin use is a national problem, one that has hit Indiana particularly hard. Although mortality rates are up in many states, Indiana is one of only four states where the rate quadrupled over the past 14 years. The IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health is dedicated to helping improve health for people in Indiana and beyond, and informing public health policy is one way we can make a meaningful and lasting difference.”

In his testimony, Halverson will share statistics that reveal by how much and how quickly the number of drug-related deaths has grown, as well as address the often-overlooked impact of addiction, including increases in harm to unborn babies, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence and child abuse, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and cases of HIV. Addiction is also a major cause of motor-vehicle crashes, crime, gun violence, homicide and suicide. Even those who don’t think they have a personal connection to the addiction issue are affected. The financial impact of the problem includes the cost of health care, criminal justice, education and more. In Indiana alone, the cost is estimated at $7.3 billion annually.

“Incarcerating people who are addicted has not solved this problem,” Halverson noted. “We have prisons full of people debilitated by substance abuse, but the problem is worse than ever. This problem is multi-faceted, and the solution must be as well. By working together to truly understand the issues and develop interventions based on proven science, we can hopefully turn the tide, just as we have with other public health issues over time.”

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