State should fund education to combat opioid crisis before it passes ‘tipping point’

Published 9:09 am Thursday, February 8, 2018


Guest columnist

Last week, area middle and high school students participated in a powerful original play, written by nationally recognized Danville playwright, Liz Orndorff.

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The play, “The Tipping Point,” was the culmination of the dream of Mimi Becker, of The Arts Commission of Danville and Boyle County, to bring the arts into local addiction prevention and education efforts. Also sponsored by Boyle County ASAP and Bluegrass Prevention Center, the play focused on the importance of youth learning to make good decisions when it comes to substance use, and other key life decisions.  It also carried a strong message that we don’t face problems alone — we are best when we have strong relationships and a supportive community.  

All indications are that our local youth learned from this experience. Staff members from both school systems were available to answer emerging questions from students and help them go more deeply into reflecting on decision making in their own lives. The performances also included one for the general public, including parents and grandparents. Adults in attendance stated that they benefited from this creative approach to substance abuse prevention.  

The story of the play is this: Everyone (youth, adults) has stress in their life, and the list of stressors and the decisions we make to dealt with those stressors are like a row of dominoes lined up against each other.  Critical bad decisions related to each of those areas of stress can result in all of the dominoes falling against each other, with none left standing.  Early life decisions about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can result in an eventual “tipping point” into addiction.  

Our elected officials in Kentucky — both current and past — could have benefitted from seeing “The Tipping Point” at Danville High School last week. Actually, all Kentuckians could have benefitted from the messages given. Our state now faces the results of bad decisions for a long time. One political party is not to blame — people on both sides of the proverbial aisle have refused to take hard and courageous stands. All of us have been far too silent as the dominoes fell around us.

Our commonwealth’s opioid crisis is a startling example of many bad decisions on many levels over a long period of time. Turning it around now and picking up the pieces is a challenge for all of us. It is no small challenge in Frankfort, as our legislators make decisions about all of the interrelated contributors to this crisis. State tax reform, state pension funding reform, education priorities, economic development, criminal justice reform, and of course, resources for substance use disorder treatment and recovery, are all part of the problems that must be addressed.    

As we saw in “The Tipping Point”, life decisions are interrelated. That is also the case when it comes to a state budget. Cutting education funding and not adequately providing for teachers’ retirements does not make sense in light of the opioid crisis. A good teacher often is the one caring adult who makes a positive difference in the life of an at-risk youth. Good education brings hope and promise to young people. It is key to their remaining in our community, or returning after higher education, to find meaningful and rewarding work and family life here.

It’s ironic that some of the bills filed this Legislative Session include added requirements for schools to do more drug education programs during the school year. House Bill 3 is one such bill. Schools certainly are the place where a captured audience of children and youth exists, so it makes sense to do prevention and education programs there. But to fail to recognize and validate the overall importance of educators in the lives of our children and youth and their families, and to ask teachers to do more with less, makes Kentuckians look short-sighted and less than wise.

More funding is certainly not the only answer to our addiction crisis and all that goes with it. Personal responsibility and good individual decision-making by all citizens are needed. But the fact is that more public funding is necessary to meet the needs that are now present, and will be for a long time.

Community mental health, public health, treatment services in jails and prisons, and Medicaid are some of the services that must have additional financial assistance. Increasing state revenue is not just a nice option, it is a must if we want to make our beautiful state a place of opportunity and productivity.

Tax reform is needed to address the opioid crisis. Tax reform could be a positive “tipping point” to help us put the pieces of our Commonwealth back together.   

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