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Friday, February 27, 2015

OPINION: Fighting Ignorance on Addiction

State Senators Wil Schroder, Chris McDaniel and John Schickel testify Thursday on the Senate's version of the heroin bill (SB 5, sponsored by Chris McDaniel)
By Tyler Owen

State Senator John Schickel is an outspoken leader of the charge against heroin in Kentucky. At least I honestly believe he thinks that.  In the words that follow I will not challenge Senator Schickel’s commitment to serving our state, his passion, or his knowledge of drug enforcement.  He possesses these qualities and should be admired for them.

However, Senator Schickel is dangerously misguided on his mission to eradicate the drug from our state.  He touts his experience as a law enforcement officer when calling for stiffer sentences and citing our punishments for traffickers for the situation in which we find ourselves.  He desires to “drive home the message that taking heroin is a choice and not a disease.”

Yes, Senator Schickel definitely believes he is doing the right thing by taking a sledgehammer to the issue.  Unfortunately the only accomplishment his sledgehammer will have will be to worsen the problem.

Senator Schickel traces the heroin problem to two issues.  First he states (while scorning bipartisanship) that lowering trafficking penalties as part of sentencing reform in 2011 allowed for heroin traffickers to descend on the state of Kentucky.  Secondly he states that hardline legislation and enforcement against illegally obtained and used prescription medicine left a void for heroin to cheaply fill.  There is definitely a hefty amount of truth in his arguments.

I would take some emphasis off of the trafficking penalties as I believe the mentality that “prison is prison” still prevails and that no trafficker aims at getting caught.  I also believe the fact that the rise in addiction overall across our nation, including that of heroin, shows the problem is not Kentucky specific and that heroin traffickers are not simply abandoning other states en masse for our state.  Yes, life may be a little too easy for traffickers and we should target and incarcerate high-level pushers, but to do so to every small-time dealer and addict selling to support their habit we would create costs we cannot afford and only perpetuate the problem further.

In his plan the Senator has abandoned any notion of treatment.  He has declared it inefficient and basically useless and states partaking in heroin is a choice, not a disease.  I myself am an addict, a recovering alcoholic (sober since March 2013).  I made the choice when I was younger to take my first drink.  That choice developed into a compulsion that grew beyond my control.  I could no longer manage my drinking and it took a toll on all aspects of my life.  My grandfather passed from lung cancer.  When he was a young man, he made a choice to smoke a cigarette for the first time.  We do not refuse to treat lung cancer or alcoholism.  We do not refuse to treat diabetes for people who developed it due to poor eating habits and lack of exercise.  Why should heroin addiction be any different?  Until we recognize all addiction as a disease and treat it as such, we will not prevail against it.

How do we fight heroin addiction?  First we remove the stigma.  Addicts are victims.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Then we can focus on greater access to treatment, naloxone (the life-saving anti-over-dose drug), and information on the disease.  We should have treatment programs in our jails and punish traffickers, I agree, but these are secondary concerns.  Let us focus on prevention, treatment, and education while also continuing on the course of enforcement.  We also must legalize the option for clean needle exchange programs, something Senator Schickel is strongly against.  Clean needle exchange does many things including preventing the spread of hepatitis C and HIV, exposing addicts to information and treatment options, and removing dangerous and possibly infected needles where they threaten non-users and first responders.

We need to fight this issue on all fronts with a comprehensive plan and organizations and governments working together at all levels.  Prevention, education, treatment, and enforcement are all necessary.  Let Senator Schickel know that.  Also let this officially mark my invitation to Senator Schickel to debate this issue publically with him in the forum of his choosing and with the date and time of his choosing.  Let us hold our legislators responsible and encourage further education and informed action on this issue.

You can reach Senator Schickel via phone at 502-564-8100 extension 617 and by mail at either PO Box 991 Union, KY 41091 or 709 Capitol Ave, Annex Room 209 Frankfort, KY 40601.

Tyler Owen
Addiction advocate and recovering alcoholic
Southgate, KY

1 comment:

  1. Thank You Tyler for a very true life accounting of the "real" issues at hand with addiction in NKY. I to also applaud Govt. awareness and efforts but like you have found many other avenues that need attention first if we are to be successful in combating drug usage and addiction. I have a family member that has a drug addiction for over 10 years now. We have been through the legal system good but mostly bad. The health system, thinking that the 12 step program will work. Not. The outpatient and AA programs that tout 1 hr meeting two nights a week will cure you. The issue that I have found to be the most lacking is long term care centers in our area that can address issues on a daily basis. Addicts feel like relapsing all the time not just two times a week for an hour because that is all your insurance will cover. We have been thru the "cycle" 10 to 12 times which to those who are lucky enough to not have experienced addiction in their family means addicts do rejoin society, jobs,family, and responsibilities for a time but then for some reason the overwhelming urge to use takes over and everything is lost and they and those around them must start over again and again. What is amazing to me is when you go looking for help their is never a bed available or you are told they will put you on the waiting list or your insurance doesn't pay for that.
    Yes, Senator, your compassion for the issue is commendable I just hope you get an opportunity to figure out what is really needed before you blow all the funding on ideas that don't help those lives already affected.
    And Tyler if you get your debate, I will show up and tell my story and give insight to the "real" trials of drug addiction in NKY.
    Thank You again.