JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) – Citing a shortage of medical staff in some Hoosier communities, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana pushed Friday for a bill that would expand a student loan repayment and debt forgiveness program to facilities that treat drug addiction.

Donnelly, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the sponsors of a bipartisan measure filed last month that would provide up to $50,000 for workers to repay student loans if they agree to spend two years at certain treatment centers in the U.S.  

The legislation comes as Indiana, Kentucky and other states are dealing with an opioid epidemic that has resulted in sharp increases in overdoses in recent years.

“We want to try to encourage folks to be able to help here on the front lines where every day our amazing staff is working, and working hard, to help our friends and our neighbors,” Donnelly said. “So we want to have more people come in to be able to provide that assistance – and this would be a great incentive to be able to have it in our community.”

He said the bill would target doctors, health aides, counselors and others in underserved areas that are now part of the National Health Service Corps program. Parts of Clark, Floyd, Washington and Scott counties are among those areas, according to the most recent data from the Indiana State Department of Health.

Scott County was home to an HIV outbreak in 2015 that was caused by intravenous drug users sharing dirty needles.

The National Council for Behavioral Health is among the organizations that support the bill. “With drug overdoses now surpassing traffic accidents as a leading cause of death, our nation must do more to ensure that clinics in the hardest-hit areas have the workforce they need to address this devastating issue,”  Linda Rosenberg, the council’s President & CEO, said in a statement.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “I hope its chances are great,” Donnelly said, noting that he filed it with Murkowski.

Murkowski said in a news release last month that many Alaska communities are dealing with alcohol and substance abuse.

“This bill could go a long way in helping curb these problems by providing needed support and improve both quality and access to care,” she said.

Donnelly spoke at a Jeffersonville office of LifeSpring Health Systems, which participates in the student loan repayment program that would be broadened under the bill. LifeSpring has 400 employees at locations in Clark, Floyd, Scott, Jefferson and other Southern Indiana counties.

“It would allow us to expand services,” said Dr. Mary Bouldin, Lifespring’s director of addiction medicine. “… If we can incentivize it and get people involved, I think they’ll stay in the field.”

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825,, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2017 WDRB News. All rights reserved.