It has become a sad and widely known fact that heroin addiction and overdose deaths left in its wake are sweeping through Kentucky in harrowing fashion. On a daily basis, The Healing Place operates in the trenches of substance abuse detox and treatment. The Healing Place is an abstinence-based, 12-Step social model recovery program that has been successfully helping alcoholics and addicts for the past 25 years. Yet, each day, we must turn away so many people desperate for help. The heroin crisis is why. Five years ago, heroin addiction accounted for approximately 5 percent of client admissions at our men’s campus on Market Street in Louisville. Today, that has risen to a staggering 95 percent. People are dying while waiting for an available bed at The Healing Place. We are a microcosm of the bigger picture. Heroin’s ugly grip is why The Healing Place is raising funds in support of a larger campus—this drug’s advance across Kentucky shows no signs of stopping.
Kentucky Senate Bill 5, introduced in this legislative session, is well-intended and addresses many critical points. Yet, we believe solving the heroin crisis is not so black-and-white. Addiction is a very complex illness and the solutions will not be simple. There are multiple interventions for other diseases that do not come under fire and force a hierarchical paradigm. For example, cancer may be treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and/or hormone therapy. We do not condemn one treatment path over another. Yet, in the arena of addiction treatment, we are pressured to choose the type of intervention that is right, and therefore the others must be wrong. There are many avenues to recovery from addiction. There does not have to be one right path to success. In fact, there is not one generally acclaimed treatment option. Addicts are individuals and require individual levels of intervention.
Regarding Senate Bill 5’s approach to Naloxone, this is a terrific drug when used correctly to revive those who have overdosed from heroin or a combination of heroin and other drugs. We are in full support of all first responders having Naloxone kits so they may revive someone on-site during an overdose emergency. Naloxone allows the addict to live long enough to get to treatment. Our concern is that some people are being revived five or ten times. Recovering from heroin addiction takes determination, dedication, and fortitude—and Naloxone is not a cure in and of itself.
Additionally, we absolutely do support the decriminalization of those reporting an overdose in progress. This will save lives. Many individuals resist calling EMS in time because they fear being charged at the scene. This legislation eliminates that possibility and could help get more people to life-saving help and treatment more urgently.
Regarding the issue of mandatory sentencing, uniform penalizations for anyone possessing at least 2 grams of heroin will simply overburden what is already a corrections system bursting at the seams. For an average heroin addict, 2 grams is often a one- or two-day supply for personal use. Under this legislation, users possessing this amount will be sentenced in the same way a dealer would be. Broad-brush incarceration is simply a recipe for more jail overcrowding. We tried mandatory drug sentencing laws as a strategy for addressing cocaine in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The only result was a huge prison population. Let us learn from our mistakes. Putting addicts in prison is not an effective intervention.
The issue of additional funding for treatment must also be carefully weighed. It is our hope that these critical dollars will be allocated across the spectrum of both public and private treatment and recovery programs showing proven results for addicts. Until there is a definitive cure for addiction, can we not support the interventions that are available, affordable and working? There is no need to be pushed into a position to choose one as better than the others.
There are a number of interventions available to those who are still suffering. The future of families across Kentucky depends on it.
This originally appeared in the Courier-Journal.
Posted on February 17, 2015
by Marla Highbaugh filed under