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Indiana House committee OKs psilocybin bill

Chicago Tribune - 2/13/2024

The Indiana Senate’s Public Health Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of Senate Bill 139, which would establish a pathway for funding therapeutic psilocybin research in the Hoosier State.

Committee members lauded the bill on Tuesday as a sign of hope for Indiana residents suffering from treatment-resistant mental and neurological conditions, though some voiced concerns over what advocates fear could prove to be an expensive form of treatment.

The bipartisan bill, authored by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, would create a therapeutic psilocybin research fund controlled by the Indiana Department of Health and charge the department with distributing state and federal grant funds to research institutions studying psilocybin’s therapeutic applications.

The naturally occurring chemical is contained in certain types of related fungi commonly called “magic mushrooms.” The human body metabolizes psilocybin to produce the active drug psilocybin, which can impact a person’s senses and alter their mood.

Studies of the drug have shown its ability to boost the growth of new connections between neurons in the brain, benefiting patients with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and other conditions.

In testimony to the committee, Mental Health America of Indiana CEO Stephanie Anderson likened psilocybin’s effect on the brain to “restarting your computer” after a crash or viral attack.

“The use of psilocybin for the treatment of these disorders that have been unresponsive to more traditional treatment methods is done in a controlled environment with observed administration of the psilocybin and continuous support observation and therapeutic interventions during the three- to six hours that the effects of the psilocybin are felt,” she said. “In reflection of the promising but limited studies about the use of psilocybin, Mental Health America of Indiana has taken the position that this therapy warrants further study. The universities in Indiana, like Indiana University and Purdue, offer optimal environments for this work.”

State Rep. Matt Hostettler, R-Fort Branch, was the only committee member to vote against the legislation. He voiced sympathy for patients that stand to benefit from psilocybin treatment, but argued that the bill does not make fiscal sense.

“The government is going to invest the money,” he told the committee. “Whoever patents it is going to charge money. The government is going to have to then pay for those patents through growing healthcare costs.”

Though psilocybin mushrooms have been consumed by humans for millennia, pharmaceutical companies have sought patents for a broad array of therapies and delivery methods involving the drug in recent years. The rush to capture an emerging market in psilocybin treatments has left many of the drug’s advocates concerned over the prospect of prohibitive costs and limited access.

During testimony by Richard Feldman, a family physician and former Indiana State Health commissioner who backed SB 139, State Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, questioned how the legislature can avoid ballooning costs for psilocybin patients and insurers.

“I share your concerns,” Feldman told the committee, describing psilocybin patents as “kind of like patenting aspirin.”

Though research participants typically receive free treatment, Feldman said, psilocybin therapies being developed involve hourslong observed sessions in clinical settings, which are particularly expensive due to the time, labor and facility space involved.

“So I do have concerns ultimately about the cost,” Feldman said. “Is it going to be a treatment for the elite? And I think the medical community shares that concern.”

SB 139 is now one step closer to becoming law. The legislation now awaits a vote by the full Indiana House of Representatives.

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