‘Grace, caring, understanding:’ How to respond to the opioid crisis

In the first few months of Mayor Linda Gorton’s term, I have worked alongside her to learn more about how our city is responding to the epidemic of substance use disorder, with an emphasis on the opioid crisis. This top priority for the mayor is demonstrated by her dedicating me, full time, to research, engage and develop a strategy to help Lexingtonians recover.

As a result, I have developed a deeper level of understanding of addiction. What I am witnessing is a response to this drug epidemic unlike any other in my lifetime.

I hear often about how our city, state and nation have seen other drug epidemics and that this response is more gracious than drug responses in the past. I understand and can relate. Growing up here in Lexington, I remember how people who used drugs were automatically classified as criminals. Our Clark Street jail was full of those accused and/or convicted of petty theft crimes rooted in drug use. And there were streets you just didn’t travel because they were overrun with drug houses; where drugs were being sold or used.

I often wish the sensitivity seen in today’s approach was used as the favored method of response during the 80s and 90s. I understand that the response then was fraught with a bunch of –isms that harmed many people, especially people of color, the mentally ill, and lower income people of all races. But that’s hindsight. I can’t go back and change those responses.

Instead, today, with the Mayor’s leadership, I choose to respond in a way in which I wish those in leadership would have responded over 30 years ago - with grace, caring, understanding and an eye toward recovery.

The possibility of reversing the stigma of addiction could allow us to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Andrea James, a former LFUCG council member, now works for Mayor Linda Gorton on ways to solve the city’s addiction epidemic.

The varying approaches and responses to this deadly epidemic are as diverse as the people who have been impacted by it. As varied as the programs and the victims may be, there is one common theme: supportive recovery is critical key to the response strategy.

Not everyone will read this op-ed and jump on my #RecoveryIsTheWay bandwagon. And that is fine. Not unlike recovery, the process looks different for everyone.

After seeing what I have seen the past few months, I realize that Mayor Gorton’s strategy to bring more people to the table to put together an intentional plan to address the impact of substance use disorder was an undertaking that was doable, and could possibly curtail death and new addiction. She will appoint that work group later this year.

September is National Recovery Month. Many organizations in our city that support these recovery initiatives are hosting events during the month of September to demonstrate the varying ways recovery is happening in Lexington. These events are open to the public, and many of them are family friendly because those of us impacted know that addiction can impact the entire family and community.

We hope you will find an event as part of this month, or in the near future, to learn more about our recovery friendly city and support programs that give people the chances they need to live their best life, free of active addiction.

I hope you’ll “Join the Voices of Recovery: Together We Are Stronger”. (2019 National Recovery Month Theme)

For more information on events, visit RecoveryMonth.gov.

Andrea James is a staff member in Mayor Linda Gorton’s Office who focuses on finding answers to our city’s current addiction epidemic.