Op-Ed

State can't fight drug abuse without more treatment

KRT

At issue | June 4 Herald-Leader article, "Fla. governor signs 'pill mill' bill; new law is expected to cut illicit flow of painkillers to Kentucky, Eastern Seaboard"

What a great job Gov. Steve Beshear did in encouraging Florida lawmakers and making the case to Congress to pass a bill to track people who go to Florida pain clinics to obtain prescription painkillers.

I have had the privilege of working as an alcohol- and drug-addiction counselor for more than 11 years. I moved from Ohio to Kentucky three months ago and plan on attending the University of Kentucky to work on a master's degree.

I am shocked and appalled at Kentucky's response to the drug and alcohol epidemic that is sweeping parts of Kentucky away. I also have learned that Kentucky contributes $6.3 million a year to alcoholism and addiction treatment. A mid-level drug dealer averages a half million a year in profits.

Living in one of Kentucky's poorest counties, I get to read the weekly paper, which provides the names of people going to prison for several years after being caught with 20 or more prescription pain pills. I am sure many are happy to have these people behind bars, and a lot of people are making great money working for our state prisons. Kentucky has one of the fastest-growing prison populations.

Please do not get me wrong. There are people who belong in prison, such as sex offenders, child molesters and murderers. Something has gone seriously wrong.

A year ago, I had a client in Ohio who told me he did two years in a Kentucky prison for being $1,200 behind in child support.

At the time, I did not believe him, but I confirmed his story. He was unable to get a job. His family was poor. He also suffered from alcoholism.

Normally, those of us who work in the treatment field do not take any political stance. I tell people to do the right thing, play by the rules, attend 12-step meetings, tell the truth, believe in the possibility of a higher power and do not use, one day at a time.

No amount of tracking will ever stop addicts from using. They live to use, and use to live. The same is true of alcoholism. Until we provide people hope, this will only get worse.

Kentucky has two methadone clinics that dose more than 1,000 people a day. All addicts have to do is show up from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., pay for-profit clinics $100 a week, meet with a counselor for 30 minutes and see a doctor who likely couldn't get a job in the Third World. Then they can stay high all day.

If the addict relapses, the clinics increase the dosage. This is all perfectly legal. I actually went to a job interview at one of these places, and the clinic's goal is to keep the client for life. No amount of money could get me to work in a place like this. I watched clients walk in with obvious withdrawal symptoms and walk out with a jig in their step.

I have offered to help pastors treat their parishioners who suffer from alcoholism and addiction. They turned me down basically because they believe addiction and alcoholism are sin and not diseases. The devil makes them do it.

I will say this about Kentucky. We have a lot of 12-step meetings with a lot of people who have many years of sobriety who stay sober by helping the newcomer. Unfortunately, many people never make it there because they do not get a chance to start. If we gave 10 percent of the money allocated to law enforcement and state prisons to house people for treatment, we might have a chance to make a difference.

Alcoholism and drug addiction affect everyone — families, children, communities and employees. It is time to do something that makes sense. We need the system to start working for people rather than against them.

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