When is the work of preventing addiction complete?

Published 4:30 pm Wednesday, November 6, 2019


Contributing columnist

“So, when are we going to be able to quit doing all of this work around addiction?”

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This is a question we often hear locally, and across the country, as the years multiply since our current opioid crisis began. It’s a completely understandable question, and one that deserves answering.

Although progress has been made in terms of decrease in overdose deaths locally and in Kentucky, although many local people have been in treatment and are now in recovery, and although local resources for treatment and recovery, harm reduction, and prevention have improved significantly, the work is not finished.

Law enforcement and court system officials will attest to the fact that the problems continue, even though there has been some shifting back and forth of which substances are the drugs of choice.  Although jail numbers are down from 2 years ago, the jail continues to house many Boyle and Mercer residents who have substance use and/or mental health disorders. And our social services system continues to deal with the effects of family substance misuse and addiction, in the number of children who must be placed away from the care of their parents.

All of these realities point to why we must do prevention work. We did not come to this crisis overnight — we have been doing some things poorly for some time. As we have tried to unravel the causes of this particular addiction crisis, we have learned some lessons about prevention. We have come to realize that there are steps we can take to prevent substance use disorders, in the same way we have become aware of specific lifestyle decisions we can make regarding the prevention of heart disease, or tooth decay

Prevention of all of these health problems and others usually involves individual decisions, as well as community and government decisions. Effective prevention of any health problems always leads to the word, “responsibility.” We have to be better at taking responsibility for our own health, and being responsible for creating communities of support for all members to make better choices.

Recently, a group of pastors and local faith leaders gathered at a quarterly “Lunch and Learn” event, sponsored by Hope Network and Boyle County ASAP at First Church of God of Danville. The topic for the event was what faith communities can do about prevention of substance use disorders.

Yes, it may surprise some to know that many of our local church leaders want to openly, honestly and effectively be involved in prevention work. This was rarely happening a few years ago, but thankfully, the message is spreading that we all can “do” prevention, and that churches play a critically important role in this work. 

We now know, beyond a doubt, that how we protect and nurture children is a foundation for whether they develop some problems later in life. We know that if we work to prevent early trauma and experiences which excellent research calls “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” we are helping to prevent later substance use disorders.

We know that even when children have challenging and difficult early family lives, that having a stable and caring adult as a mentor, and a safe neighborhood are protective factors that work against the negatives. And, as our local faith leaders were glad to hear, we know that being part of a supportive and loving religious community is a protective factor, which can contribute to prevention of later problems.

We can — and we must — demystify how we understand the prevention of substance use disorders.  Everyone can “do prevention.” A person does not have to understand the complicated details of various drugs of misuse to contribute in a positive way to the lives of our children and youth.

Prevention is, very simply, minimizing the risk factors that we know contribute to addiction, and maximizing the protective factors which contribute to health. Prevention of a next generation of adults with addictions includes being kind and interested in our community’s young people, and being an advocate for public spending priorities that contribute to healthy family life.

And, as one of the speakers at the “Lunch and Learn” pointed out, it involves keeping ourselves as parents and community adults spiritually and emotionally healthy so that we are equipped to deal with life’s challenges as they inevitably arise.

In the same way that our police chief and sheriff tell us that we don’t have to be a law enforcement professional to report possible illegal drug transactions, we don’t have to be a prevention professional to contribute to prevention.

Everyone has a positive role to play in community solutions. Everyone can help provide the straightforward answer to when this work should end  — very simply, never.


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