Is This Indiana State Senator America’s Next Drug Czar?

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All eyes are on Sen. Jim Merritt (R-IN) after Politico reporter Adam Cancryn tweeted that the Indiana politician is “under consideration for White House drug czar.” President Trump’s initial pick for the job, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) withdrew his name from consideration after his history of assisting Big Pharma became public last month.

Marino was pressured to remove himself from consideration after stories broke detailing his support for the pharmaceutical industry and simultaneous curtailing of enforcement efforts against them. The sudden change in plans occurred right before Trump’s promised revelation of his plan to cure the opioid epidemic.

Now, if we’re to believe Jim Merritt’s candidacy claim, the Indiana senator is one of an unknown number of people under consideration for the nation’s top drug job. The next White House drug czar will be tasked with eliminating an opioid problem that has become a bloated and convoluted issue fraught with bureaucratic obstacles like the Controlled Substances Act and pharmaceutical lobbyists.

Merritt has a checkered past when it comes to voting on marijuana issues. The state senator, who supported the decriminalization of marijuana possession in Indiana with his vote in 2013, also alluded to his belief that marijuana is a gateway drug.

When the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area organization released their highly contentious 2016 report that stated marijuana legalization had negative ramifications for the state of Colorado, Merritt applauded the findings.

“It does create crime and it is not something we want our children to get mixed up in,” Merritt said.

The possible future drug czar has taken a hard stance against black market opioid dealers this year, filling a key role in passing more than 15 new pieces of legislation that take direct aim at street sales. This was in stark contrast to his previous approach to alleviating Indiana’s addiction woes in recent years with a greater focus on education and health care.

In October, Merritt laid out his plan for turning the ship around, offering a peek at what kind of drug czar we may be able to expect should he be nominated and confirmed. Merritt plans to introduce bills that would:

  • Institute a minimum sentence of 10 years for dealers whose product is found to have caused a fatality.
  • Establish laws that target producers and distributors of synthetically-produced drugs.
  • Levy a 10-year minimum sentence on anyone found selling drugs that contain fentanyl, a contributing factor in an aggressively growing number of fatal overdoses nationwide.

State Sen. Merritt also voted his pledge of support for clean needle exchanges in the state of Indiana and has expressed his openness to try new approaches to an old problem.

“I’m empowering prosecutors and I think that’s what we need to do,” Merritt explained. “Because it’s not working right now.”

Last year, Indiana lawmakers passed legislation giving local governments more freedom to start needle exchanges, limited the number of opioids doctors could prescribe, and created a pilot program to help opioid-addicted pregnant women and those with newborns.

Critics have said that while they appreciate Merritt addressing the supply concerns in Indiana, his solutions fail to eliminate the flow of these drugs into the state, where they will surely find new distribution.

While Merritt is taking a balanced approach, keeping the hand of law enforcement strong while staying open to modern tactics like supplying emergency personnel with overdose antidotes and convincing insurance providers to cover addiction treatment costs, his goal of ending Indiana’s heroin epidemic within five years is challenging to say the least.

“A lot of times in politics people are afraid to put a goal out there because you might not make it and then you’ll subject yourself to a lot of criticism,” Merritt said. “But we need a goal. We need a vision. And I’m not going to apologize for having a big goal. I want to kill heroin within five years.”

Photo courtesy of Tom Britt

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4 Comments

  1. This troglodyte has no business in government. His ideas are the worst sort of idiocy. This man does not have the intelligence to fight his way out of a paper sack. The idea of someone like this having influence enough to affect millions of people in this country is frightening.

    • Captain Jason Straw USAF, NC (Retired) on

      We have given Indiana State Senator Merritt a new tool to try if he is truly serious about fighting the opioid addiction and overdose problem: Medical Cannabis for Heroin Addiction Treatment
      https://www.hellomd.com/health-wellness/cannabis-is-successful-as-a-treatment-for-heroin-addiction
      Some doctors are now looking at how cannabis could help their patients who are addicted to opioids. Dr. Gary Witman, of CannaCare Docs in New England became one of the first to widely publicize the idea of using cannabis to help people with opioid addictions. The Massachusetts clinic where Dr. Witman is employed has treated 80 patients who suffer from pharmaceutical addictions. The one-month rehabilitation program proved successful for 75% of the patients in the study.

    • Mr. Powell from Indiana Prosecutor Attorney Counsel used this reference in his letter claiming cannabis has no medical value, that Indiana State Senator Merritt and Indiana Drug Czar Jim McClelland saw: http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2017/Cannabis-Health-Effects/Cannabis-conclusions.pdf (Summary of Report supporting medical cannabis)

      CONCLUSIONS FOR: THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS
      There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective:
      • For the treatment for chronic pain in adults (cannabis) (4-1)
      • Antiemetics in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (oral cannabinoids) (4-3)
      • For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral cannabinoids) (4-7a)

      Of course Mr. Powell should check his sources because I have a difference definition of conclusive or substantial evidence for the treatment for chronic pain in adults (cannabis). I see that as proof of the medical value of cannabis. Not what Mr. Powell said as no medical proof.

  2. Senator Merritt is responsible for the increase overdose rate here in Indiana with all his passed anti-opiate Bills that without a beneficial alternative in place like medical cannabis only through more fuel on this fire.
    My warning of the State Senate Health Committee produced little to no action on their part. Now when I return for their next session I will only have four words, “I told you so!”

    If there were a Dr. Kevorkian achievement award you would get it Senator Merritt.

    Respectfully Submitted
    Jeff Staker
    Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis, Inc.

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