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State establishes loan forgiveness for addiciton specialists 

By Seth Morin

In an effort to address a shortage of addiction specialists in Indiana, the state has created a loan forgiveness program that could benefit two college graduates annually.

The law makes psychiatrists, addiction counselors, and other mental health professionals who are pursuing training and careers in addiction eligible for the program.

House Public Health Chairman Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said the law is an effort to increase the number of providers in Indiana. "There is a growing recognition of the need to improve mental health resources and access to those resources," Clere said.

The Mental Health and Addiction Services Development Programs board will annually select and fund the two individuals who receive loan forgiveness. Selected recipients must then practice addiction treatment and services in Indiana for a minimum of five years.

They can do so in private practice or while working for a government-sponsored program.

Clere said the legislature has focused in recent years on reducing the availability of addictive drugs and not as much focus on addiction treatment.

"It's naïve to assume that because someone no longer has easy access to a drug that that an individual will stop using drugs," Clere said. "Hopefully this is one of many steps in the direction of turning our focus to treatment of addiction rather than just worrying about the supply."

Steve McCaffrey, president of Mental Health America of Indiana, said the state has a major problem with the shortage of addiction specialists. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommends one psychiatrist for every 10,000 residents. In Tippecanoe County, for example, the number is one for every 57,585.

"I think Indiana is in a huge need of reviving our health services," McCaffrey said.

He said the shortage will continue and possibly become greater under the Affordable Care Act, which will eventually provide more Americans with mental health and addiction coverage. McCaffrey said another reason there is a shortage of addiction specialists is the fact that it is one of the lower-paying health professions. "It is hard to pay off student loans," he said.

Senate Health Chair Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, is a mental health professional and a sponsor of HB 1360. Miller said the state lacks adequate addiction treatment and services. "We have enormous problems with the services that we need to provide," she said. She said the law is a step in the right direction.

And McCaffrey said the law does a good job setting up a structure and putting an emphasis on a need for funding. Advocates of the law say putting more people into treatment services could also expand the areas where services are available. Angela Hayes, president-elect of the Indiana Association of Addiction Professionals, said a major issue for some people is how far they have to travel to get the right services.

"We have to take the services to the people," Hayes said.

Seth Morin is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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