The Owensboro City Commission and Daviess Fiscal Court met Tuesday in a special-called joint session at City Hall to hear ideas on how to combat the community’s meth problem through prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
They were joined by health, law and government officials for the hourlong meeting that was led by RonSonlyn Clark, senior director of substance use and prevention services at RiverValley Behavioral Health; and Sgt. Michael Nichols, supervisor of the Owensboro Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit.
Both Mayor Tom Watson and Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said the meeting was more than about figuring out funding but also about stopping the addiction cycle and the devastating effects meth has on the lives of the users and their families.
Mattingly shared that his late brother overcame meth addiction, making this endeavor personal for him.
“A lot of folks have their minds changed about substance abuse when it becomes up close and personal,” Mattingly said. “I know probably 20 years ago, as far as I was concerned, you could’ve thrown ’em in jail and let ’em rot. And then my brother was arrested for manufacturing meth and spent several years being rehabbed. I’m here to tell you that the last five years of his life were probably the best years before he passed away of lung cancer.”
In the late 1990s and through the early to mid-2000s, meth was manufactured locally through homemade labs with ingredients such as anhydrous ammonia, hydrochloric acid, lithium and pseudoephedrine found in cold medications. The “one-pot” method of combining cold tablets with household chemicals inside a plastic soda bottle was another form of local manufacturing.
But once the Kentucky state legislature passed laws restricting pseudoephedrine pills — a key ingredient — at the retail level, the backyard meth labs were largely eliminated.
However, law enforcement didn’t see the drug itself eradicated. Instead, a more addictive and cheaper version is now being imported from Mexico.
According to Nichols, OPD seized 3.14 pounds of meth in 2014 as opposed to 18.38 pounds so far this year.
“No area of Owensboro is devoid of the problem,” said Nichols as he showed a map of the city littered with meth arrests.
When meth addicts are arrested, Clark said they’re usually suffering from what’s called "meth psychosis," preventing any kind of behavioral evaluation even if they’re threatening to harm themselves.
Clark recommended creating social detox program run by peer recovery specialists who were former addicts.
“When someone comes in and they’re on methamphetamine, they just want to go in and they want to sleep,” Clark said. “They get (the meth addict) settled down (with) low lighting, soft music … and let them sleep 8, 10, 12 hours. And when they get up, you just encourage them, give them something to eat and just encourage them to stay for the next hour or stay until this afternoon or why don’t you stay until tomorrow and you provide a little bit of education. …Statistics are showing that about 50% of those people will go on to treatment.”
Another idea Clark presented was looking at long-term programs that allow accountable partners for addicts while they are going through drug court or when receiving treatment.
“What they need, more often, is someone in their lives and holds them accountable for a long period of time,” Clark said. “And drug court is a minimum of 18 months. And if I’m with you side-by-side holding you accountable for 18 months showing you a clean and sober way to live life, more people than not get into recovery because of that level of involvement.”
Proposing legislation that would create separation between the addicts and the “true” trafficker was also brought out as a need.
Nichols said addicts and traffickers are often lumped together under the law and find themselves in treatment together.
“…If you come in with any kind of drug charge, it’s a 'let's go to rehab,' ” Nichols said. “Again, I’m not going to say rehab is not going to help, but if you’re a true trafficker and you don’t have an addiction issue, well, you’re just throwing a big fish back into the pond with people who are truly trying to get sober and trying to change the way they live their lives. And now you have a shark in the pond, so to speak.”
Clark agreed with Nichols about the revamping the trafficking laws but added that it would take professionals who could assess and screen the individuals during the judicial process.
“If you’ve been doing this as long as I’ve been doing it, I can tell a trafficking person from a using person,” she said. “Get somebody that’s trained and knows how to combat that (and) to keep the traffickers out of treatment … a trafficker will disrupt a group process quicker than anybody.”
Watson encouraged Clark, Nichols and members of the Alliance for a Drug-Free Owensboro to take the ideas to fruition.
"... Give us a heads-up on how you're doing," Watson said. "We're here to support you as best we can."
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299