News that heroin use is on the rise in Eastern Kentucky should stand as a stark lesson that law enforcement and regulation alone cannot solve the problem of drug addiction.
Much has been made of the success of House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s House Bill 1 from 2012, which placed strict new controls on the prescription of painkillers. As a result of the law, there has been a dramatic decrease in the abuse of medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
The problem, however, is that addicts still have the same urge, regardless of whether or not they can obtain their drug of choice. If painkillers are hard to get, they will simply turn to other drugs to achieve the same effect.
That is why heroin is seeing a resurgence in popularity, and that invites a whole new world of problems for Appalachia.
With prescription painkillers, at least addicts can often obtain their drugs quasi-legally and there are controls in place that can help the medical community identify those in need of treatment.
But there is no KASPER for heroin. There is no way to track its use. Those addicted to it often do not make a blip on the medical community’s radar until they show up in a hospital emergency room or morgue due to an overdose.
And while the illicit use of prescription painkillers has been responsible for an unprecedented explosion in crime, heroin carries with it the potential for far greater problems. Because the drug is completely illegal along every step of its life, from production to distribution to use, there are more crimes committed in its trade, and therefore there is more incentive for criminals to become violent.
From the beginning of the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, state and federal officials have displayed an admirable resolve to tackling the problem with a balanced approach of enforcement, education and treatment. If that balance is allowed to tilt more toward enforcement, however, we run the risk of losing what little control we have gained over the problem.
There is an overly-simplistic notion in some circles that the problem of drug abuse can be solved by getting rid of drugs. That is clearly not the case, as addiction is resilient and drug users display a remarkable ability to feed their habits by any means necessary. Even if we were able to accomplish the impossible task of ending the abuse of prescription painkillers, addicts would simply turn to another available drug, as seen by the increase of heroin and meth use, or invent a new one, as seen by the constant barrage of new synthetic drugs that keep lawmakers scrambling to pass laws to ban them.
What is now needed is an education-and-treatment equivalent to House Bill 1 — an all-encompassing and ambitious commitment to preventing non-users from falling prey to addiction, and getting treatment for those who have.
Yes, that sounds far simpler than it really is, and any such effort would require an unprecedented expenditure of time, labor and money. But the only other alternative is to give up and watch the problem spiral rapidly out of control, which would ultimately prove far more expensive.
Right now, we are presented with a rare opportunity. We can see dark clouds gathering on the horizon. We know that a storm is coming. The only question before us is whether we make plans and take action now, or ignore the warnings and get swept away in the tempest to follow.
— The Floyd County Times