Most columns about the heroin addiction problem these days are prefaced by a long list of statistics, then are followed by nice declarations such as, “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.” It’s true. These memes have been posted by every stakeholder group in the region, printed by every newspaper in the state, and broadcast by radio, cable television and podcasters across the land.
There is large if not unanimous agreement that these statistics are correct. But now it’s time to digest the sobering numbers and shift gears by laying some rubber on the road, and that’s just what Keene’s Addiction Solutions Task Force is doing.
Nearly two years ago my co-chair, Keene City Councilor Randy Filiault, and I, with the support of the chairmen of the council’s finance committee and the Keene school board asked the mayor to form this task force to bring together the many stakeholder organizations who have been struggling with the addiction problem for years and give them a forum to collaborate on real solutions that get people off drugs.
Within the last year the governor appointed Jack Wozmac drug czar, the usually water-logged and hard-line-pandering state legislature is actually talking about increasing funding for treatment beds that have gone lacking for far too long, and I feel the tell-tale rumblings of federal grants coming down the pike to fund recovery centers across the state. Locally, Jessica White and David Pence created a very active anti-heroin group in the community who meet frequently to deal directly with active users.
You can tell things are heating up because private-sector organizations are springing up to compete for the federal largesse. And, state and federal election time is approaching. So the iron is hot. Let’s strike!
Our first initiative, led by newly elected councilor George Hansel, is to create a recovery center in collaboration with local businesses to not only help present workers who have addiction problems, but to increase the available workforce by reducing the stigma of addiction and bring the 20% who fail drug tests into the workforce.
Another committee member, Cheshire County Administrator Chris Coates, is creating a research group of education-based stakeholders to bring solutions to the task force.
Committee members Sheriff Eli Rivera and Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard have gotten certification for their staff to administer Narcan to overdose victims. And, county drug court coordinator Alison Welsh is looking into national drugstore participation in Narcan distribution to family members of addicts.
These and other resources are going to be created to add to what is already in place locally to allow the newly funded addiction hotline to offer police and emergency responders a much-needed alternative to jail, the hospital emergency room or morgue.
You can help by enforcing tough-love on someone you may know who has a problem instead of stigmatizing them. Let’s make productive citizens out of these people who are all around us. Don’t throw them away, because the next one in line may be you.
Once, some really smart person said that progress is slow, but it’s worth it.