With the exception of University of Kentucky basketball, probably no subject in the mountains creates more controversy, disagreement and passion than how to deal with the raging addiction epidemic that dominates just about every aspect of life.
Currently, the prisoners in the Floyd County Detention Center have to sleep in shifts due to overcrowding. The overwhelming percentage of people in local jails are addicts who are in for conduct that addicts typically do. They cannot control their impulses and often violate the conditions of their release.
Recently — along with attorney Mark Wohlander — my firm filed an interesting lawsuit in federal court that challenged how the court system deals with addiction problems. While the name of the lawsuit is Watson vs. Administrative Office of the Courts, it should properly be titled The Medical Profession vs. The Legal Profession.
While the voluminous pleadings in the lawsuit are likely confusing to the average layperson, at the end of the day the question becomes simply this: Who is best equipped to deal with the addiction problems? Is it the court system? Or is it the medical profession?
The lawsuit takes the position that we should properly leave this up to medical professionals. The court system is ill-equipped to deal with addiction issues.
The fight between the legal and medical professions can best be described as follows: If one were in Floyd Circuit Court in the past 10 years, one would hear circuit judges thunder at criminal defendants that under no circumstances should they take methadone, Suboxone or similar substances. Any testing of these substances led to incarceration.
Most drug courts have a blanket prohibition against using Suboxone and methadone. The controversy is that medical professionals think Suboxone, methadone and similar drugs are safe harbors in this addiction storm.
There is currently a raging heroin epidemic, especially awful in Northern Kentucky. While Suboxone is an addictive drug, unlike heroin it won't kill you. Suboxone and methadone clinics have waiting lists in Northern Kentucky.
Why is the court system so interested in micro-managing the prescriptions criminal defendants receive? The answer is understandable. Lawyers, judges and court personnel see every day the damage that drug addiction does on countless levels. Judges and lawyers, including myself, have large egos. and we think we can solve all of society's problems.
The question then becomes what do you do when you have a defendant who is court-ordered to not use Suboxone or methadone, and their doctor thinks such medications are not only necessary but might well save that person from dying of a heroin overdose?
It is significant to point out that exactly two weeks after we filed the lawsuit, the chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court amended drug-court rules to lift certain blanket prohibitions on Suboxone and methadone. In other words, the court system's defense to our lawsuit is that the evil we were complaining about (blanket prohibition) has been lifted.
During the same time frame, the Office of Drug Control Policy told the Kentucky drug courts that if they continued to engage in these blanket prohibitions they would lose their federal funding.
While I don't doubt anyone's concern for these individuals, it does appear to me that the fundamental problem in all of this is that judges and lawyers think we know all of the answers.
Opiate addiction is a medical problem that should be treated by doctors. The truth is, the court system should get out of the way and let the doctors do their jobs.