Commentary

Don’t forget those living in active addiction

Opioid settlement dollars should help people, not build bureaucracies

January 11, 2024 5:30 am

Opioid abatement efforts should focus on housing and access to medical and dental care, writes Laverne Zabielski. (Getty Images)

I attended Lexington’s Opioid Abatement Commission executive committee meeting on Jan. 4. The public is always invited. We sat in chairs behind the commissioners’ table and listened to a concerned committee explore numerous ways to address the opioid crisis. 

The discussions led to formulating the agenda for the Jan. 12 full commission meeting in the Council Chambers at 10 a.m. This is relentless and hard work. There is much to consider and little time. 

I  am a concerned and impacted citizen. While witnessing the amount of research the commission must pursue, my fear is that this dedicated and committed group will forget the purpose of  the settlement funds presented in the handout on page three at the Oct. 13, 2023 meeting: “The money is meant as remediation for the way corporations aggressively promoted opioid painkillers, fueling an overdose crisis that has now largely transitioned to illicit drugs, like fentanyl.”

The loss of teeth is a side effect of opioid addiction. Often people think that’s not important.  If an addict becomes drug free, there’s hope. If an addict has a place to live, that’s progress. But a recovering addict without teeth will have a hard time finding a job. Fulfilling these needs is another way of breaking the cycle of recovery and relapse.

Currently the commission is focusing on three areas: prevention, treatment and recovery. The prevention focus is important but feels to me like a rabbit hole.  Many programs and strategies have been implemented over the years. Until we have a culture that pays at least a living wage, places housing as a right over profit and has universal health care, there will be no effective widespread, sustainable prevention.

My concern is if too much time and funds are spent on efforts at prevention there will not be enough for active and recovering addicts. Indeed, at the Dec.  8, 2023 meeting, commissioner John Moses emphasized the need to “lift the voices of those people who are still in active addiction and listen to the community so that we don’t have preconceived notions about what is needed.”

Tayna Fogle, a member of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council,  organized a meeting on Sept. 6, 2023 at the Lyric for the purpose of hearing from concerned residents and homeless citizens. One homeless man stated his exasperation with agencies being funded, yet not having enough personnel to be able to answer phone calls. That is my fear. Money goes to agencies without serving the people affected. If funding is spread too thin, that will happen again.

There needs to be a coordinated method of ongoing accountability implemented by the commission so that the agencies receiving funding use the money for opioid addicts not just for staff and bureaucracy. Active and recovering opioid addicts being served need to have social workers and compassionate people to communicate with when things are not going right. 

A Center for Opioid Abatement Prevention, Treatment and Recovery is needed where impacted people can go to find the resources they need. A central place where mothers can also go to find out where the detox facilities immediately available are located. 

All involved need to be heard. Opioid addicts need advocates who can offer recourse. I don’t mean they should be given a form or questionnaire to fill out. I mean being able to share their experiences to a committed listener who has the power to take action.

Treatment and recovery for opioid addicts needs to be the primary focus of the abatement money, including housing and access to medical and dental care. The loss of teeth is a side effect of opioid addiction. Often people think that’s not important. 

If an addict becomes drug free, there’s hope. If an addict has a place to live, that’s progress. But a recovering addict without teeth will have a hard time finding a job. Fulfilling these needs is another way of breaking the cycle of recovery and relapse. 

Given reparations are the stated purpose of the opioid abatement funds, my hope is that is also the mission of Lexington’s Opioid Abatement Commission.

Opioids are such a huge problem that it  is easy to lose focus. If you are an impacted citizen, I encourage you to come to the next meeting and share your stories and questions. Help Lexington’s Opioid Abatement Commission stay on task. This is a community disease and requires everyone’s input.

Nowhere to go in Lexington, during a summer heat wave in 2018. (Getty Images)

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Laverne Zabielski
Laverne Zabielski

Laverne Zabielski, a writer and community artist, studied art at the University of Kentucky and received her MFA in writing at Spalding University in 2004.

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