ANDERSON — There are five pillars Gov. Eric Holcomb sees as foundational to building up the state of Indiana.

Though he doesn’t like to prioritize them, the first four — cultivate a strong and diverse economy, create a plan to fund infrastructure, develop a skilled workforce and deliver a government that works — all rely on the fifth.

“All of those four areas are touched by the drug epidemic that crashes up against them in unique ways,” Holcomb said while addressing the crowd at the ribbon cutting for Bridges of Hope, a new drug treatment facility in Anderson. “It’s obvious to me that we can’t succeed unless we attack this head on.”

Holcomb joined Anderson government officials, including Mayor Thomas Broderick Jr., in welcoming the new facility that offers space for 29 drug addicts looking to fight addiction.

Bridges of Hope, located at 2200 Madison Square in Anderson, is a private facility that will help patients through detoxification and then into a recovery plan.

Residential treatment can vary from patient to patient, but often takes 30 to 45 days. Residential treatment includes 30 hours a week of clinical services and therapy sessions, 24-hour supervision and treatment and daily 12-step meeting attendance.

Carl Waterman, CEO of Bridges of Hope, said it’s private facilities like his that can help lead the charge in turning the tide against drug addiction.

“Private industry has to come into this,” Waterman said. “It’s going to take private business investment into this to make a change.”

The price of inaction is apparent, Holcomb said later over lunch at the Lemon Drop. Unless local, state and federal governments can work together to find resources to help people addicted to drugs, he said, efforts to better the state through education and employment are bound to fail.

Though deterring Hoosiers from ever picking up an illicit drug and punishing drug dealers who provide them are both key to fighting the opiate epidemic that is rampant throughout the Midwest, Holcomb said it’s local treatment centers that are in a unique position to help put people on the “road to recovery.”

“We have got to provide more local facilities to patients who are struggling with this illness, and it is an illness,” he said.

Though Holcomb said it will become necessary for the state to invest more funding in addiction therapy, “It shouldn’t lurch to, ‘The government will solve this.’”

Instead, Holcomb called upon small communities and local non-profits throughout Indiana to create and fund addiction treatment programs, adding it’s the state’s job to coordinate those actions.

That’s why he included a new position, the executive director of drug prevention, treatment and enforcement, in his proposed two-year, $31.7 billion state budget released Tuesday. The new executive will work with all state agencies that deal with drug addiction and report directly to the Governor's office.

Through this collaboration, Holcomb hopes the state can develop regional initiatives that can receive state and federal funding.

“It is with the coordination of these efforts — making sure that we are complementing and not competing — that I believe Indiana can emerge on the other end of this as a real model for our holistic approach,” he said.

Holcomb also lauded community needle exchange programs as a way to help addicts make first contact with services that can offer treatment.

The Madison County needle exchange program became a contention point after County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings spoke against the kits, which include a syringe, rubber tourniquet, alcohol pads and a small metal cooker, among other things, at the Indiana statehouse.

Cummings told The Herald Bulletin last month that offering an entire kit: “…sounds like encouraging drug use rather than discouraging drug use,”

Holcomb argued the kits are designed to get people linked with treatment, and addicts must request the kits, in the process making contact with health department personnel who inform them of treatment options, as well as reduce diseases transmitted by sharing needles.

He also encourages doing away with an Indiana provision requiring the state government to declare a state of emergency in order for a community to implement a needle exchange.

“I trust the local community and all those involved to make that declaration,” he said. “And if the state would disagree with it, then the state would become involved (afterward).”

But treatment of the underlying reasons for addiction through rehabilitation at drug treatment centers should remain the focus, he added.

“We still have to focus on enforcement, but with the treatment part, to me, we need to do everything we need to do and can do,” Holcomb said.

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