Final gubernatorial debate focuses on drug epidemic, med pot

Final gubernatorial debate focuses on drug epidemic, med pot

By BRIAN A. HOWEY

EVANSVILLE – Indiana’s three gubernatorial candidates addressed the drug addiction epidemic rapidly spreading across the state, filling emergency rooms with people overdosing on heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil. In the city that hosted the debate, 20 people had already died of some combination of heroin, according to the Evansville Courier & Press earlier this week.

During the third debate at the University of Southern Indiana Tuesday night, the trio was asked about expanding the state’s needle exchange program that was used to halt the spread of an HIV epidemic in Scott County last year.

“This is an issue that is strangling our families,” said Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb. “We need to continue to explore every way.” He said that the state should concentrate on “preventing, enforcing and treating families caught up in this surge.” The Republican nominee said that expanding a needle exchange already in use in more than 20 counties “will require legislative action” that would give local governments more options. Many counties are struggling to fund the crisis even after the state allowed them to use needle exchange.

“This is an all hands on deck effort and it will be a top priority in my administration,” said Holcomb.

Gregg noted that Indiana leads the nation in domestic methamphetamine production, and is fifth in heroin use. “Yes, I support the needle exchange,” Gregg declared. He also said that while Indiana “needs to lock up drug dealers and violent criminals,” but added, “We need to look at it as a medical issue. Rehabilitation works.”

Libertarian Rex Bell observed that the war on drugs began a half century ago. “What did we accomplish 50 years ago?” Bell asked. “Nothing. The addiction rate is same as it was 50 years ago. We need to stop treating drug addition as a crime.”

The candidates were asked about allowing medical marijuana for treatment of pediatric diseases. Holcomb took a hard line, saying that weighing the issue during the heroin and meth epidemics “seems off key,” noting that “story, after story, after story on drug busts” involved both heroin and marijuana. “I would want to talk a lot more with medical professionals,” but added, “Expanding or legalizing marijuana is not on my list.”

Gregg said, “I would support medical marijuana. If it would benefit a patient, I think they should be allowed to use it.” Gregg talked of the death of his father last year from esophagus cancer. “The doctor never said anything about cannabis,” Gregg said. “We should have had the right to let my dad alleviate that pain.”

Bell said, “Yes, I would support medical marijuana.” He noted that five states are about to legalize some form of marijuana use on Nov. 8. “Eventually we’re going to allow it.”

In the Oct. 3-5 WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll, on the question of the legalization of medicinal marijuana, 73% favored and 25% opposed.

On Sunday alcohol sales, Holcomb said, “I don’t favor it,” adding that the lack of Sunday sales “doesn’t put an undue burden” on consumers. “They can plan accordingly six days prior.”

Gregg said, “I think if the legislature sent me a bill, I think I would very likely sign it. I would like to see how that debate played out.” He noted that his mother was in the gallery. “Contrary to what my mother would say, she’s not going to like my answer.”

Bell weighed in saying, “Something legal on Saturday should be legal on Sunday.”

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