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Communities must be committed to helping solve drug crisis

By KATHY MILES

Boyle County ASAP

The research is increasingly clear:  Where we live — our community — has a major effect on our overall health.

Kentucky Health News recently reported on the annual meeting of the Friedell Committee for Health.  Speakers at the Frankfort conference consistently stressed the effects of all aspects of a community’s environment on the health of its citizens. Healthcare experts shared the message that investing in community resources and evidence-based prevention is absolutely necessary in order to achieve real and lasting differences in community health. 

This kind of investment is far more sweeping than simply building new healthcare facilities or attracting more providers to a community, although both are important. It involves strong local community commitment to investing — through compassion, time, knowledge, and financial resources — into assessing and solving problems. It encompasses maintaining a safe and nurturing environment for everyone in the community. And, it includes a long-term approach to community health — a vision that the next generation will benefit from the knowledge and work of the present generation.

There is no clearer example of the need for a community approach to health problems than in the current drug crisis in our country. In the past several months, communities like ours have owned the problems as local and have begun the challenging task of improving their abilities to address current drug problems and prevent those of the future. Boyle County’s attack on our local version of the drug crisis is improving, but is not where it needs to be. There is work still to be done. No more obvious evidence exists than the fact that Boyle County residents are still tragically dying of drug overdoses.

Boyle County’s capacity to address the short- and long-term issues of community drug use is marked by both strengths and deficits. Many of these deficits are being discussed by community groups, and work has begun to meet some of the needs. Some of the deficits focus on the lack of treatment, long-term recovery and work programs for those with diagnosed substance use disorders.

Boyle County has no detoxification, inpatient, or residential program. Our residents must travel out of county for any of these services. We also have no transitional living program or temporary shelter. The latter needs have also been identified as needs of area homeless persons and those with chronic mental illness.

A second area of deficits involves a shortage of support, information and rehabilitation for the families of those who have substance use disorders. For many years, addiction has been known as a “family disease.” It touches everyone who lives in the household. It is particularly damaging to young children.

To reverse the generational cycle of addiction, children and youth need positive adult role models, opportunities to heal from trauma, experiences that foster resiliency, and solid information about how to make healthy choices in their own lives. They need to know how to have fun without substances and how to deal with life’s difficulties without substances.

All of us who are parents and grandparents must make our responsibility to the next generation a top priority. When we don’t know how to parent or help a child, we must seek out the best available information. It is critical that our community invest in the needs of these children now, in order to avoid the tragedy of a next generation of jail inmates and unproductive adults.   

We have just participated in national, state and local elections. Some new leaders have been elected. New and continuing leaders today have the opportunity to look with fresh eyes at our current drug crisis. Updated information about treatment, prevention, enforcement and harm reduction is emerging almost daily.

However, elected officials can’t do this alone.

All of us must be actively concerned and informed citizens. We must invest time and resources to partner with our leaders to erase the community deficits and build on our strengths. We must not go backward in the work that is already occurring. Our health — and the health of those who will live in Boyle County after us — depends upon it.

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.