Mindset change needed in fight against opioid crisis

Published 12:16 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

We applaud the efforts of Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street, Judge Lisa Rice and other officials in the First Judicial District, who have put together a plan to fight opioid addiction. Their vision is for a medically based drug and alcohol treatment center, which would be based at the Roan Mountain prison, which has been closed by the state.
Judge Street in a recent appearance before the Carter County Commission noted that in the four counties of Washington, Carter, Unicoi, and Johnson that he and Judge Rice closed out between 4,000 to 6,000 charges against offenders, with 75 to 80 percent of those cases possibly more involving some type of drugs.
They were cases that involved the sell and use of methamphetamines, marijuana, and other drugs, but there also were cases of homicides, domestic violence, burglaries and robberies — all connected to drugs.
It’s time to start seeing addiction for what it is: a disease that needs treatment. We cannot arrest our way out of the problem.
Opioid addiction is a complex issue, and it will take citizens, elected officials, organizations and law enforcement working together to fight it. It will also take a societal shift in mindset about illicit drug addiction.
We must find a way to help people that are addicted to these drugs and not just punish and condemn them. This shift in thinking by our judicial system must be embraced by our community at large. It’s time to start seeing addiction for what it is: a disease that needs treatment.
We have heard statements such as: They belong in jail. They broke the law, and the question: Why should the taxpayers pay for a comfy treatment center for criminals?
The opioid crisis is not an issue we can simply arrest our way out of. We must treat the disease by helping those seeking treatment while simultaneously going after those who flood our neighborhoods and streets with drugs.
Medical experts have said that drug addiction is a disease that changes the brain and causes compulsive desire for more drugs. We have to view the complex disease of addiction the way we view other medical problems.
Yes, police must limit the flow of methamphetamine and other drugs into our neighborhoods. By all means, put clear-eyed, cynical pushers behind bars. But helping addicts kick their habits, while difficult, is both more effective and humane than the alternatives. The sooner we rally behind treatment, the closer we are to ending this scourge.
We applaud our local judges and law enforcement officials for their efforts to help these individuals and to find an answer for the drug problem in our communities. And, we applaud both the Carter County Commission and the Elizabethton City Council for voicing support financially of the idea the judges have put forth.
If it comes to pass, it could make our communities safe and give new hope to drug abusers.

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