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Substance abuse continues to plague, but there are reasons for hope

By KATHY MILES

Boyle ASAP

Recent news for Kentuckians regarding our problems with substance abuse and addiction has not been good. In May, the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP)was released by Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health. The poll is an annual compilation of Kentucky adult health statistics.

KHIP reported that 27 percent of Kentucky adults said they know someone who has abused prescription pain medication and 17 percent know someone who is using heroin. Contrary to the belief of some, methamphetamine (meth) has not gone away. KHIP found that 17 percent of Kentuckians polled stated that they had friends or family who use methamphetamine.

This latter finding is consistent with the June 3 Advocate-Messenger front page article focusing on Boyle County felony cases. Boyle County Attorney Lynn Dean expressed concern about the number of cases related to methamphetamine, and the increase in crystal meth, a more potent and thus more dangerous form.  

In addition, local and statewide reports are including more concerns about the presence of new synthetic drugs and the “lacing” of many street drugs with unknown and dangerous substances. Two weeks ago, the Partnership for Drug Free Youth issued an alert regarding what is being called “Gray Death,” a mixture of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and a new synthetic opioid called U-47700. This new combination drug has been blamed for deaths in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio, with warnings issued for surrounding states like Kentucky.  

All of this news is alarming, and can be discouraging to those most involved in working on the current substance misuse and addiction crisis. It is more than worrisome to law enforcement, justice system officials, EMS first responders, and hospital emergency room staff. It is exhausting, and makes their jobs harder. In some cases, it puts their lives and health at risk.  

Can we draw any positives from these gloomy reports? Yes. In spite of the concerns these and other reports can, and should, bring in all of us, we can find some hope. First, the fact that substance abuse is being included in public health surveys is a step forward. We have failed to even ask these questions for far too many years, because we did not understand addiction as a treatable disease, and we were ashamed to talk about it. Unfortunately, that denial and silencing approach to addiction got us where we are today.  

We can also take heart that drug dealers are being arrested, and that our law enforcement officials are not giving up.  An increased number of court cases can be the result of better investigating. It can also mean that all of us, as citizens of our community, are reporting more concerns to law enforcement.  Let’s hope that we are doing a better job of what our police and sheriffs ask us to do — “If you see something, say something.” If we want enforcement to improve, we all have to work as a team, and we need to thank law enforcement on a regular basis for the hard work they do.

The increase in court cases has also brought about a much increased local awareness of the need to provide treatment — not just incarceration — while our local folks are in jail for drug-related offenses.  The Shepherd’s House intensive outpatient program, now in its fourth month of operation for folks coming out of the Boyle County Detention Center, is a testament to our community’s improved awareness that treatment is necessary for real recovery and change to occur. More and more local citizens are talking about the need for treatment access for all with addictions, and the related issue of public and private insurance coverage for that treatment.  

In May, Recovery Research Institute published a summary of a five year Philadelphia research study that was published in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. The study looked at recovery from addiction over a period of years, but they did not just study the recovery process of individuals. The focus was also on how communities can and must come together to recover from the wear and tear of widespread misuse of alcohol and drugs. The authors concluded that entire communities can heal as they are transformed from the pessimism and hopelessness that comes with addiction to places where solutions are shared.

We are learning that communities in distress need leaders who lead with hope and optimism. They counter the short attention spans for change which plague Americans today. We must be in this for the long haul. We must continue to make our community a place of opportunity.

Over 25 million Americans are in stable long-term recovery from addiction. Many of them are local Kentuckians. Their recovery stories inspire hope in all of us.  

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