No, Senator — the state has not done enough about the opioid crisis

In the state capital last week, the House and Senate Health and Wellness Committee met to talk about opioid addiction.

One expert told lawmakers that: “When the clock strikes midnight tonight, four Kentuckians will have died of a drug overdose,” the Courier-Journal reported.

And what are lawmakers doing?

Hosting another meeting, and considering, while the crisis continues. What is left to talk about, unless those meetings result in action and additional funding for people suffering from addiction?

Treatment experts from such organizations as the Volunteers of America spoke about their programs such as Freedom House, which assists pregnant addicts to stay clean and deliver healthy non-addicted babies. Learning about Freedom House prompted Republican state Sen. Julie Raque Adams to ask if there were enough of these programs to meet the need.

Short answer is: No.

No, Sen. Adams, there are not enough programs. There is not enough manpower, and there is not enough money to treat addictions in the way that would make significant improvements possible. There are opportunities to make improvements, but Gov. Matt Bevin continues to ignore them.

We should ask him why, but, Sen. Adams, also ask yourself and your colleagues that same question. As Kentucky continues to cut services and resist adapting to a changing world, people are dying. Kids are left without parents, and parents are left without their children.

This crisis has a human face. It isn’t numbers on a page but real hearts that stop beating because there is not enough help available.

What could happen if the money was available?

We asked Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness what she would do if she had unlimited money. “Our main wish would be to make it simple, free and easy for people with substance abuse disorder to get treatment,” she said.

“But it’s important for resources to go beyond treatment. People recovering from substance abuse disorder need social supports and strong recovery resources to help them succeed at clean and sober living. We also need to invest resources in our children and young adults to build coping skills and resilience to prevent substance use disorder in the first place.”

Emily Smith, regional operations director of Omni Community Health Services, said she believes lawmakers have no idea how to solve the problem. Either that, or they don’t care and are turning their backs on the problem, and on the families and citizens of Kentucky.

Louisville needs more recovery-supportive living homes to keep addicts clean once they detox, she said.

“Right now, what’s happening is people go to detox,” she said. “They stay in detox five days; they get out, and they’re back in that same environment again.”

Smith also said there are not enough people working in addiction services. “If there were enough funds, I would encourage more people that are going to school getting their masters in social work or sociology to take more courses in addiction.”

Lawmakers in Frankfort might talk with Gibson, and with her organization Omni, part of a larger company headquartered in Nashville and opening a new full-service behavioral health facility in the Medical Arts Building on Eastern Parkway. Part of its addiction treatment includes the use of Synchronous Health’s app, Karla. Karla uses GPS to track movements of those who sign up for the program. When addicts enter areas that are risky to their sobriety, the app reminds them of the interventions they’ve set with their therapists. It helps get them through these tough moments in real time.

Innovation is integral to winning the fight against opioid addiction, because the same old things simply aren’t working.

Omni isn’t alone; other established local groups are trying new strategies.

The Healing Place has partnered with Centerstone, Our Lady of Peace, The Brook Hospitals, Volunteers of America, Landmark Recovery, The Morton Center, Jeffersontown Police and others to build coalition-type relationships to create a better continuum of care for addicts. The new program is called TAG, which stands for Treatment Advisory Group. This new cooperative relationship will help ensure addicts have access to prevention and healthy recovery environments and assist the treatment facilities in better communicating across their platforms.

Heather Gibson, director of program services, at the Healing Place said the solution is not penalizing the user by imprisoning them without any plan for when they are released.

“A particular drug wreaks havoc on a community and that community and government pay attention for a while. Laws are passed that curb the supply side and stiffer penalties are put in place for those who possess that particular drug.”

This has yet to stop the problem.

“While lawmakers and the community are focused and whichever drug is causing the most problems, another drug is flooding the streets,” said Gibson. “We have seen laws passed to stem the flow of pain pill prescriptions only to be replaced by more potent and cheaper heroin and synthetic fentanyl. We passed laws to lock meth manufacturers up longer, and now we’re seeing highly potent meth from Mexican super labs. We need to focus on prevention and treatment.”

If there are fewer people who want, or need to have, a fix from these powerful drugs, then perhaps the situation can improve.

Lawmakers could stop pretending to not understand the well-documented issues surrounding addiction in Kentucky. Expand and empower Kentucky’s Drug Court programs, which have operated with success since 1996 but faced possible budget cuts under Bevin.

Alleviate jail crowding and offer a path to recovery for those who feed their drug habits with petty nonviolent crime. Addiction services should be a required part of any sentencing that involves an addicted person.

No, not enough is being done, and not enough is being spent.

But yes, more meetings are a waste if no action follows.

Not enough should be the refrain for the opioid crisis, especially when it comes to waiting for lawmakers to act.