Op-Ed

City must fight evils of drug addiction

The hear-no-evil, see-no-evil monkeys? How did they end up in a conversation about the impact of and possible solutions for drugs and heroin in our fair city?

We began our Together Lexington-sponsored Courageous Conversation perusing postcards of random images designed to stimulate conversation. And they did. We introduced ourselves to our table by relating our chosen postcard to the impact of drugs on our city. We quickly found that most of us had a personal story of being impacted by addiction.

With an organized format led by Together Lexington volunteers, we began to further unpack how each of us views the impact on our city. From the voices of city leaders, business leaders, parents who have lost loved ones to addiction, parents of those in recovery, parents of those incarcerated for drug-related crimes and treatment providers, to name a few, we identified the following as impacts, in part:

▪ Loss of potential contributions to the community by people who do not survive an overdose.

▪ Increase in crime, including gun violence, prostitution, theft, overcrowding of jails, gang activity.

▪ Destruction of families, including overwhelming the foster-care system.

▪ Economic impact, including a reduction in the employee pool, the cost of incarceration outweighing the cost of treatment.

Knowing that recovery is the answer to these issues, we chose the top priorities that we felt our community could work on and discussed them in detail:

▪ Reduction of stigma. Stigma is a barrier to entering treatment, staying in treatment, and finding support for all those impacted by addiction. Education dispels myths and increases understanding and compassion, thereby reducing stigma.

▪ Reduce overdose deaths. Increased access to naloxone and to treatment, reduction of access to drugs, including reduced prescribing, continued enforcement against major traffickers, better disposal options.

Action items identified included a community-wide, large-scale conversation, a community art project and utilizing existing advocacy groups for conversations with key members of our community.

As for hear-no-evil, see-no-evil and speak-no-evil, some say they signify “get your head out of the sand.” Some see them in connection to a “just say no” approach.

Could it be that hear-no-evil refers to reserving judgment until a proper “hearing” and understanding of a matter has occurred?

Could “see no evil” be a missive to gather more information about a problem that we see before judging those involved? Maybe we could see perhaps that the issue is complex and difficult to understand and therefore difficult to solve?

Could “speak no evil” be a call to use our words, with compassion and honesty, to be part of the solution, not the problem, in our workplaces, family systems, churches and social circles?

Honest, caring, respectful dialogs such as the Courageous Conversation about the impact of drugs on our city give me hope that Lexington can move from addiction and its impact, to recovery, and eliminating the effects of addiction.

We can accomplish this by getting beyond the myths and misconceptions to a compassionate understanding of the nature of the disease of addiction, the causes and the many-pronged, complex solutions.

This represents only my take-away from the Courageous Conversations, and should not be taken as a reflection of the experience of the individuals in our group or of Together Lexington, all of whom have my deep appreciation and gratitude.

Shelley Elswick is president of Voices Of Hope-Lexington, Inc.

Want to participate?

Go to Together Lexington website, togetherlexington.com, for more information about Courageous Conversations. Upcoming discussions:

April 24: Affordable housing and homelessness at Lexmark Training Center

April 26: LGBT inclusion at the Plantory

April 27: LGBT inclusion at the Plantory

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