Last Thursday I co-moderated a forum on opiate addiction and Brattleboro’s most recent struggle with heroin sales and crime. I must admit, most of the questions I asked leading up to the three-hour forum were designed to produce a result that I thought would work -- to call upon the citizens of Brattleboro to get involved, to care about our bucolic little town enough to keep it bucolic. In my mind’s eye, all I wanted to do was motivate and activate folks into making those phones calls and paying attention to their own home fronts; to simply get people to do that we need to do to slowly begin to solve our problem.
Now, I’m not saying that it won’t work that way, it could, but this issue has a ton of moving parts and it’s a moving target with thousands of different facets. In short, this thing doesn’t have one simple answer and that means it doesn’t have one simple answer. See, my whole idea was to give everyone a firm understanding of the problem so we could have further discussions about solutions as opposed to the finger pointing and blame game. I think we achieved that, but while doing it, I will be honest, I learned a ton.
So now that I know that this thing is a moving target with outside factors that make it near impossible to hit, we must concentrate more on the things we don’t see as opposed to the things that are easily identifiable. For instance, one thing that isn’t talked about much is the taxing of resources that happens when someone is brought in with a heroin overdose. First thing that happens is the individual is given a lifesaving drug called Naloxone (which is used to counter the effects of a heroin or opiate overdose).This is administered in the emergency room, then what could potentially unfold after that is pretty crazy: Because this person is an addict they can’t just go to jail, they need to go to treatment and if no beds are open guess where they stay? Yup, in the hospital emergency room under the watchful eye of a sheriff’s deputy, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week.
Incarceration isn’t always the answer either. Studies have shown in that "blue light moment" when the person is in the back of the cruiser they are the most receptive to treatment and that treatment has a better chance of sticking. But if that "treatment" is a week away because there are no open beds ... well, that’s where the system breaks down. See, that’s just one of the many facets when it comes to the war on heroin.
This is a super-complicated issue, and Congressman Peter Welch said it best: "We’re not going to arrest our way out of this." We’re also not going to be able to just bury our heads in the sand and blame the guys on the front line for not doing enough.
Another thing I learned is they are "law enforcement" officers, not "law making" officers -- which means that they only have so much movement with the interpretation of any given law. There’s that moving part. So obviously it’s up to us to get involved on that level too.
For me, the takeaway from the forum was stop being judgmental, get involved, pay attention and support. Yes there are professionals that we fork over taxes to handle the stuff we don’t want to look at. But they are grossly outnumbered and they could use our help, our support, our attention. Because if they have that, then they can really focus on the nitty gritty while you and I as activated citizens focus more on helping than hindering. What the hell is up with that?