NEWS: The Courier-Journal, March 24, 2015

Increase investment in addiction services

Jennifer Hancock, Special to The Courier-Journal 10:15 p.m. EDT March 24, 2015

Kentuckians who face the challenges of addiction represent every zip code, educational background and socioeconomic status imaginable. The face of addiction looks like you and me. Our families, our friends and our colleagues are struggling with this issue and unfortunately many are dying from it.

Volunteers of America urges our state government leaders to increase the investment in addiction treatment services. The best way Kentucky can do this is to decriminalize addiction and re-orient the paradigm toward treating this disease.

Our corrections system is essential to creating a safe society and community for us all, but is important to note that on average 25 percent of Kentuckians in jail or prison are incarcerated for drug-related crimes. Many of these inmates have turned to crime to subsidize the disease of addiction and would benefit from a community-based and evidence-based approach to treatment like what Volunteers of America provides

Contrasting what Kentucky spent on addiction treatment, $29 million, to the amount spent on incarceration, $525 million, is astounding. If our government officials would fund addiction treatment even 10 percent of what they fund our Department of Corrections, we could serve more Kentuckians in community-based settings and save more lives.

Volunteers of America is a leading residential addiction recovery provider in Louisville and Lexington. Through our partnerships with the Department of Corrections, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs and Seven Counties Services, we offer licensed, accredited residential programs to the most vulnerable and those with the most complex needs, including men who are criminally involved, men who have both a substance abuse disorder and a chronic mental health condition, veterans, and pregnant women.

Along with our community partner Shatterproof, a national organization working to end the heroin crisis through policies and education, and on behalf of the 335 men and women and 20 children we have served over the past year we are pleading with our state leaders to pass legislation that prevent more of our loved ones from losing their lives to this disease.

•We fully support the intent and language in the heroin legislation that sits before our House of Representatives and Senate that aims to divert funding to treatment programs and believe this is strategic and solution focused way of solving this problem. Treatment programs are desperately needed to serve the estimated 300,000 Kentuckians suffering from the disease of addiction and our government leaders have an opportunity to prioritize addressing this public health crisis in the remaining days of the legislative session.

•Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse the symptoms of an overdose if administered immediately. Proposed legislation would increase access to this medication to first responders and allow pharmacists to prescribe the medication, making it readily available in emergency situations. In 2013, 32 percent of the commonwealth's 722 overdose deaths were attributed to heroin. That is 231 lives that could have been saved if we had a tool like Naloxone available.

•The "Good Samaritan" provision of this legislation would protect those who call 911 and the Naloxone survivors from facing charges related to the possession of heroin and paraphernalia. "Good Samaritan" will save lives by removing the fear of prosecution and increasing the likelihood that people will call 911 and get help. It is our hope that a significant portion of those calling 911 for help will seek treatment, and these resolutions could help us serve more Kentuckians suffering from the disease of addiction.

Regardless of where we stand politically on this issue it is my hope that we can all agree that this disease is killing young people and destroying families and something more must be done.

All of us are stakeholders in creating a healthy community for us all.

To our elected officials — pass legislation that will save lives.

To my fellow citizens, think about how you can make a difference too — talk to your children about the very real and negative impact of addiction in our communities, encourage your family and friends struggling with this issue to seek help, and accept my invitation to get involved with organizations like Volunteers of America that are on the ground solving this problem one person and one family at a time.

Jennifer Hancock is president-elect of Volunteers of America.