Opinion: Resolve to keep improving response to drug epidemic in 2020

By KATHY MILES

Contributing columnist

A new year, a new decade. Endings and beginnings usually cause us to pause, reflect on the past and plan for the future. New year’s resolutions are too often based on only a small amount of reflection and not much planning on how change will be implemented.

Perhaps most importantly, most resolutions don’t address how positive change will be reinforced and maintained over time. Thus, we see lots of failed resolutions, and cynicism about human capacity for change and growth.

Failed resolutions can happen for communities, as well as for individuals. We can’t let this happen when it comes to our response to the drug crisis. In the past decade across our country, deaths due to overdose, criminal convictions related to drugs, overcrowded jails and prisons, and children being raised by grandparents and foster parents are just a few of the effects of this crisis.

During this same decade, we have also seen a rise in the implementation of solutions to drug misuse and addiction. Those solutions include more funding for treatment and law enforcement; an increase in recovery support groups and services; the use of evidence-based approaches, such as medication assisted treatment; more targeted prevention programs for children and youth; changes in medication prescribing patterns; and harm reduction programs, which address the health problems related to addiction. In the midst of much pain and suffering, progress is being made.

As our local community moves forward with our particular solutions to the drug crisis, it is important that we carefully evaluate our collective resolutions for 2020. In the fourth step of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, members are guided to make a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of themselves. The fourth step is followed by others, which include action to make amends where possible and continuing to take a personal inventory. This AA wisdom has been practiced with success since the 1930s. We can apply it to our community’s work in fighting addiction.

Here are some questions we might consider as we take inventory of our work going forward:

  • What resources can we access to increase the local treatment options for addiction?
  • What are we willing to do to make our jail a place of real change for those incarcerated there?
  • What is our court system doing to change approaches which have not worked in the past?
  • What supports are needed by local law enforcement to better address the presence of deadly drugs on the street, including the rise in the presence of Fentanyl?
  • What can we do to open up more local workplaces to those with histories of drug-related crimes, and how can we increase the number of drug-free and recovery-friendly workplaces?
  • How is local health care changing, contributing to better outcomes related to addiction?
  • What resources can we commit to the prevention of addiction in the next generation, including accessible and quality child care, preschool education, mentoring for at-risk kids, and after-school programs?
  • What are each of us willing to do about the stigma and common misunderstandings around substance use disorders and other addictions?
  • How do various solution-focused groups in our community work together to reach common goals?
  • How do we evaluate our progress over time, and who has responsibility for leading the inventory of our work together?

Rich Harwood, founder of The Harwood Institute, and author of the bestselling book, Stepping Forward: A Positive, Practical Path to Transform Our Communities and Our Lives, writes and talks about important approaches to positive community change.

One of those key approaches is the importance of the stories communities tell about themselves. Harwood says that these stories are the hidden factor to whether a community progresses forward or remains stuck with old problems. We are finding this lesson to ring true for us locally.

When it comes to the drug crisis and all of its related problems, we must continue to be about admitting honestly and fearlessly our problems, asking hard questions of ourselves, finding and implementing solutions together, and continuing to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. We must tell the stories of hope and positive change. Those stories abound — in the lives of reunited families, formerly incarcerated taxpaying employees, children succeeding in school, and lives saved by first responders. The new decade holds great challenges and great opportunities for us. As we reflect and plan for 2020, let’s commit to honesty, hard work and hope.

 

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