Five Smooth Stones Kentucky

By Mark Wohlander

In April, it was announced that the University of Kentucky would receive a four-year, $87 million federal grant to reduce opioid deaths in Eastern Kentucky by 40 percent. Not surprisingly, Gov. Matt Bevin attended the announcement and told the world that this is a “great opportunity” for the state, and that “[he] was convinced we’ll get it done in Kentucky.”

Of course, the announcement to reduce opioid deaths just happened to coincide with Bevin’s plan to slash Medicaid benefits for tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients, many, if not most, of whom rely on Medicaid to obtain treatment for addictions — which, by the way, are not simply for opioids, but every imaginable street drug including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl.

At the outset, one is left to wonder why the study will only focus on opioids. Could it be that we have conquered and cured addictions for all of the other drugs which take the lives of thousands upon thousands of Kentuckians and others across America every year? For anyone who has been exposed to the drug epidemic for even a few years, it is clear that by the time this study is completed and the money has been spent, there will be a new drug of choice that will replace opioids. In fact, at the risk of offending those involved in this study, while there is still an opioid epidemic, the opioid epidemic has already been replaced with a much more deadly epidemic fueled by heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine and methamphetamine which is laced with fentanyl.

While laudable, this study, like most other studies, will likely be outdated before the ink dries on the report. To borrow from the words of President Ronald Reagan, “the ... inescapable truth is: Government does not have all the answers. In too many instances, government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.” 

The rhetorical question for all of us should be whether we are willing to accept a solution that only saves the lives of 40 percent of the nearly 1,200 Kentuckians who die each year from an addiction to opioids. Considering that this is a four-year study, it appears that even before the first dollar is spent on this study, the government has already decided that the other 720 Kentuckians who will likely die each year from an addiction to opioids, or the deaths of more than 2,880 other Kentuckians who will likely die over the four-year study, is an acceptable number in order to ultimately announce and proclaim that the study was a success.

Hopefully, most Kentuckians who have suffered the loss of a family member, a brother, a sister, a mother, a father, a neighbor or anyone else, will agree that 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent or anything short of reducing overdose deaths by 100 percent is not acceptable.

So, what can be done to reduce overdose deaths by 100 percent? Well, for those who are on the front lines of the drug epidemic, those on the front lines who get up every day and provide treatment, there is a realization that while we will never achieve a goal of 100-percent, those on the front lines of treatment will tell you that we can do much better than 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent or even 70 percent. And those on the front lines of treatment understand that there is only one way to save more lives, and that is through treatment — treatment that, for the most part, must be funded through Kentucky’s Medicaid program, which has been on the chopping block and in the crosshairs of the Bevin administration.

Again, at the risk of offending those who will be involved in this study, maybe, just maybe, ground zero for this $87 million study should be at Appalachian Wellness, Integrated Health Service clinic, a small treatment clinic in Campton. Maybe, just maybe, if those involved in this $87 million study would take just a few days to meet with this caring group of medical and treatment providers and watch as they change lives, and at the same time save lives, then maybe, just maybe, instead of only saving 40 percent of opioid addicts, the final report will provide real solutions that will not only save more lives of those addicted to opioids, but also for the thousands of others who are addicted as a result of the drug epidemic which is crippling communities across America.

Of course, regardless of how much money is spent for treatment, there will still be those who will die as a result of their addictions. With that reality, maybe those involved in the study have an extra thousand or two that they could share with Appalachian Wellness, money that could be used to purchase a bus so they can realize a bold new idea and their dream of launching mobile treatment centers in rural Kentucky for the hundreds of drug addicts who simply do not have the ability to travel to Campton, or anywhere else for treatment. To borrow from Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State, and from a quote that is on the Facebook page of Appalachian Wellness, “Always remember that the future comes one day at a time.” Remember, for those who are suffering from any addiction, it is always about one day at a time.

So, as I often do, I would invite each of you to join me on my imaginary mountaintop, a place in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, a place where we can all come together and shout loudly to everyone who is suffering, or has suffered from an addiction to opioids, or any other drug, that we care for you, and we want each of you to know that for each of you “the future comes one day at a time.”

Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington, Kentucky and throughout the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. His other columns and Liberty prints are available at fivesmoothstonesky.com

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