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Question primary candidates on drug addiction issues

After a delayed start, spring seems to have sprung in Kentucky.  Like the flowers of the season, political signs are popping up everywhere. Election Day is May 22, and fortunately, we have many area citizens willing to run for office. These signs represent the fact that democracy is alive and well in central Kentucky. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson must be smiling right now.

This year’s Kentucky elections are occurring against a backdrop of state government budget cuts, partisan divisiveness, challenges to public education and an addiction crisis like we have never before seen. It must be difficult for candidates to know where to start when addressing the problems that we face. It’s equally hard for voters to know what questions to ask our candidates — whether it be in individual conversations or at public forums. Most of us want to be thoughtful voters, to understand key issues and to hold those running for office accountable for informed leadership.

The addiction crisis has touched everyone in some form or another. National and state surveys are reporting an increasing number of people know someone who has an addiction to opioids, and know someone who has overdosed. Even for the small minority who don’t, their tax dollars are being used for jails, prisons, otherwise unreimbursed health care, increased law enforcement and harm reduction programs. The fabric of our shared community life has been torn by legal and illegal substance abuse.

Obviously, some elected officials deal more directly with the causes and effects of this crisis than others.  A jailer, for instance, has “up close and personal experience” every day. A coroner cannot avoid overdose deaths or accidents caused by drinking and driving. On the other hand, a county court clerk is not impacted so directly. But, nevertheless, all office seekers should to be able to answer questions about what we are facing today, and have some informed plans about solutions. All public servants play a leadership role in our community. We look to them for guidance and wisdom.

Here are some suggestions for general questions to ask of all candidates, regardless of the office they are seeking:

1. What’s your understanding of how we got to the addiction crisis we are in today?

2. What do you believe about the disease concept of addiction, and do you believe people can be in long-term recovery?

3. What changes should occur to lower our jail numbers and decrease recidivism?

4. Where are taxpayer dollars best spent in fighting this crisis?  

5. What strategies do you recommend that cost nothing in dollars and cents?

6. What could law enforcement do differently, and how can we all support their work better?

7. What resources are missing locally, and what are your thoughts on developing those?

8. What should happen for workforce development to include meaningful employment for those with addiction-related criminal records?

9. What are we doing with and for kids to prevent the next generation of people with substance use disorders?

10. What’s your vision for our community that includes coming out of this crisis stronger than before and bringing hope to our people?

These questions are a start to having a meaningful conversation with candidates. There are certainly others that could be asked about the addiction crisis. And, there are most definitely other community issues that we want our leaders to understand besides substance abuse.

It is important that we not let this opportunity for questions and answers slip by. Our community is stronger when we communicate honestly about those things most important and challenging to us. Resiliency arises out of dealing with difficulties, rather than just doing what is easy. As the May primary election approaches, we will all benefit from hard questions asked. We will be better because we have listened for answers. And, our democracy will be stronger when we can wear the “I Voted” stickers at the end of the day on May 22.

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