A year ago, we looked forward to 2020 with the enthusiasm of a puppy perched beneath the kitchen table at suppertime.

It didn’t quite turn out as we had envisioned, but the beauty of a new year is that it affords us the opportunity to plan anew — and get to work.

Such is the case with the Indiana General Assembly, which opens its 2021 session Jan. 4. Legislators, distanced and masked as the pandemic persists, can expect a busy session as they consider the biannual budget along with issues such as worker safety, teacher pay, infrastructure improvements, the governor’s emergency powers, and more.

They’ll also take up measures related to substance abuse, including extension of the state’s syringe exchange programs. Now set to expire on July 1, 2022, the programs were granted a one-year extension by the Legislature earlier this year.

Syringe exchange programs have been proven effective in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and they provide an avenue to connect and educate users on recovery programs and health care. They also provide for proper disposal of needles, reducing the public safety risk, and save millions of dollars in health care expense.

They deserve more than a yearly renewal, especially given our present circumstances.

Caught in the squalls that blew through 2020 — divisive politics, racial injustice and pandemic-driven joblessness — it’s been easy to forget the addicted, whose daily preoccupation is the next high or the next drink. Illegal drug use, though, still pervades in our alleyways and driveways.

Since the pandemic spiked in April, drug overdoses have been on the rise. Clark County, alone, saw a 300% increase in overdoses in May, when 62 were reported.

Statewide, overdoses had started to decrease in 2019, but emergency departments report a more than 80% rise this year, WFYI public broadcasting in Indianapolis reported. And overdose deaths increased more than 30% between January and May.

Public Health is one of the five pillars cited by Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday, when he rolled out his 2021 Next Level agenda, detailing legislative and administrative priorities in the coming year.

Addictions treatment programs accompanied by wraparound services— such as housing assistance, health care and child care, all of which lead to better outcomes — should be an important part of our public health initiatives.

After all, substance abuse was an ongoing health crisis in Indiana long before we heard the word COVID-19. It still is.

The News and Tribune

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