Tobacco, opioid epidemics claimed 14,200 Hoosier lives in 2017, studies say

The opioid and tobacco epidemics claimed 14,200 Hoosier lives in 2017 and cost the state $12.6 billion in health care costs, lost productivity and other economic damages, according to two new studies.

The studies, released Tuesday morning by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, recommend that Indiana raise the state tax on cigarettes by $2 a pack, raise the legal age of smoking to 21 and expand access to syringe exchanges and safe disposal sites for opioids.

The studies are the latest to point to the scourges of opioids and tobacco in Indiana, a state hard-hit in recent years by illegal drug use.

They also come about a month after Indiana’s drug czar, Jim McClelland, said the state’s opioid epidemic is showing signs of turning the corner, with visits to emergency rooms for drug overdoses falling and doctors writing fewer prescriptions for opioid painkillers.

The studies say while there has been a steep decline since 2011 in the number of fatal overdoses that involve prescription opioids, Indiana has seen a rapid rise in the fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic.

“There has been heightened awareness and meaningful action to confront both the opioid and tobacco epidemics in our state, but today’s report show we still have tremendous unfinished business,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of the Fairbanks Foundation.

The new studies say that more than 1,700 Hoosiers died from drug overdoses last year, an all-time high and a 75 percent increase since 2011. The vast majority of those deaths were linked to opioid misuse, the studies say.

Smoking and secondhand smoke cause a combined 12,500 Hoosier deaths each year, said one of the studies. It pointed out that one in five Hoosiers smokes and Indiana places among the 10 states with the highest smoking rates nationwide.

Smoking also led to $3.3 billion in health care costs, with the state Medicaid program bearing $540 million of that, according to the study.

Recommendations to raise the tobacco tax or raise the legal age of buying tobacco have been raised before, but stalled in the Indiana General Assembly. Earlier this year, Indiana House Republicans killed a bill that would have increased the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, indicating it would cost state government $14 million a year in lost cigarette tax revenue.

But the Fairbanks study points out Hoosier families face a combined $1,125 per household in additional state and federal taxes to cover the health care costs resulting in tobacco use, and businesses lose $2.8 billion per year in productivity due to tobacco use.

The studies were conducted by researchers at Indiana University’s Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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