Drug prevention director outlines state plan to tackle opioid epidemic

As president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana for many years, Jim McClelland gained firsthand experience at the importance of holistic approaches to combatting poverty. Now as the state’s first executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement, he’s waging a similar battle against substance abuse.

“The work all of us should be doing is helping whole families to build stronger communities,” McClelland said during his keynote speech on the first day of Fairbanks’ 10th annual Susan Li Conference.

And judging by the current opioid epidemic sweeping Indiana – and much of the rest of the country – “we have a lot of work to do.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb has made this one of his priorities, to the point that he created McClelland’s position by executive order on his inauguration day.

McClelland is tasked with coordinating nine state agencies that work in various ways on substance abuse issues. He also seeks to leverage state and federal resources to respond as effectively as possible to the current crisis and substantially reduce the likelihood of a similar crisis in the future.

That entails a strategic framework to a problem with myriad facets.

“Without a guide, there’s a serious risk of just playing Whack a Mole,” McClelland said.

The approach so far is increasingly data-driven, though McClelland acknowledges there’s a surplus of data that isn’t particularly useful.

“We have a lot of people working on this, and sharing more across many more silos than in the past,” he said. “They’re taking vast amounts of data and turning it into useful, timely, actionable information.”

Among his priorities:

  • Help keep people alive through overdose antidotes like Naloxone
  • Connect people to treatment faster
  • Add treatment capacity, including housing
  • Establish mobile crisis teams
  • Expand residential services
  • Expand training of treatment providers
  • Gather more research on evidence-based prevention programs
  • Encourage alternative pain treatments
  • Offer more education to providers about opioid prescribing practices
  • Educate the public more on the crisis to decrease stigma
  • Promote the use of drug courts
  • Create better alignment of addiction and mental health services in the Department of Correction

McClelland said much of this needs to be done on the local level, especially prevention and wraparound services like education, mentoring and skills training.

“Just giving people hope, which sometimes is what they need more than anything else,” he said.

His office is encouraging local coalitions that are providing prevention, treatment and recovery services. With data showing that the younger a person is who tries drugs or alcohol the more likely he is to develop a substance use disorder, McClelland advocates for organizations like the Youth Assistance Program in Hamilton County. There are currently 750 children enrolled who work with mentors and are involved in constructive activities like music, dance, art and sports.

There are many compounding issues involved with substance abuse, which are being dealt with in silos.

“Everyone’s working on pieces to a bigger problem,” McClelland said. “We’ve got to connect those pieces. Then we’re going to make headway. It sounds so easy, but it’s difficult to do. But we’ve got to do it.”