Remedies for opioid crisis require leaving politics behind

Published 1:11 pm Thursday, October 12, 2017


Guest columnist

Sam Quinones came to Kentucky last week.  He’s the author of the internationally acclaimed 2015 book, “Dreamland”, a best seller which painstakingly outlines the development of America’s opioid crisis.  Quinones was the keynote speaker at the annual Howard L. Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum. Sponsored by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, this year’s forum was completely dedicated to Kentucky’s public health crisis of addiction.  

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Quinones spoke to a sold-out crowd about what he learned from writing the book, and shared some recommendations with the many Kentuckians present who are working to address the problems associated with addiction.  An author who has focused in previous works on crime, he said he began his background research thinking that he would be writing “the great crime book.” Instead, he shared that he found himself writing about America’s loss of community life and the lack of what is needed by children and families to live and thrive.

He described America’s search for a life without pain as a contributor to the use of heroin and other opioids. He expressed  deep concern that the American value of self-reliance taken to the extreme has become isolation and despair. Heroin, he said, “is the perfect symbol for how isolated we have become as Americans, and how much we have killed off or ignored what would bring us together”.

Quinones and other expert conference presenters continually stressed the importance of rebuilding community life as an important piece of addressing the current crisis and preventing an even bleaker future. They emphasized making courageous decisions to stop doing what has not worked in the past and start doing what research indicates can work. They recommended grassroots, community-based change and patience to be in the work for a long time. Quinones also said that he “left his politics at the door” when he wrote his book, and he encourages others to do that as well.

So, how does this message speak to our community, and how do we measure up to these important recommendations? Two examples come to mind. Last year, local officials voted to support Boyle County’s first syringe exchange program. At that time, Mercer County had already been operating their own program for a few months. Boyle County Fiscal Court, Danville City Commission, and the Boyle County Board of Health voted to support the implementation of syringe exchange. They essentially “left their politics at the door” because the best research available said that the program was needed to save lives and avert an even more serious public health crisis. No doubt, some of those folks have been criticized for their decisions, but they considered the issue thoughtfully and acted courageously.

Hope Network, our local Christian faith-based organization fighting addiction, is finding, training and supporting mentors for children and youth in our schools, and mentors for the adults with substance use disorders who are in the Shepherd’s House treatment program. Hope Network volunteers are leaving their political and denominational differences at the doors of the jail, treatment programs, and schools, to live out love, support, and caring for members of our community. They are recognizing the power of relationships for building resiliency in the young and healing the damage of addiction in young and old.

Our community has important decisions coming up in the near future which will best be made in consideration of the lessons we are learning from our addiction crisis. A decision has to be made about the terribly overcrowded detention center. Should a new building be built? Should incarceration only be considered, or should therapeutic and rehabilitation programming be included in the plan?  

On a continuing basis, we are faced with economic-development, education and public-health decisions.  Will we plan around what will bring community together and promote health and safety, adequate incomes and inclusion of all in community life? Or will we make decisions that contribute to the isolation and splintering that Quinones and others have addressed? Will we have the courage to learn from the past, pay attention to what we now know today, and work for a future with the needs of children and families a priority?  

The answers to these local questions — and many of the big national questions looming on the horizon —  lie with our ability to “leave politics at the door” and do what contributes to the common good. This is no time for promoting personal agendas. We are being called to act unselfishly, compassionately, collaboratively and with as much wisdom as we can muster to address the addiction crisis. In so doing, we provide a foundation for a better life for generations to come.

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