Writing a column seems like it should be easy for someone full of opinions. And in most ways it is. But the tough part sometimes can be expressing something close to your heart, knowing you may get some ridicule for it. I never thought I was capable of doing that until I took the plunge a couple of times, and then lived to tell about it. As a result I have found that these periodic acts of surrender have made me a far braver person than I used to be. It really is good exercise.
It’s time for Indiana to surrender. I think it will do it some good.
How so? Well, September is National Recovery Month in America. It started in 1989 and has grown since. In its 26th year, it appears we are finally approaching a shift away from the failed “war on drugs” to a smarter and likely cheaper “war on addiction.” This is tough for Americans, because it seems like a shift that comes from defeat or the admission of weakness. Surrender has never come easy for us.
But in this arena, surrender truly is an act of bravery and let’s talk about how. For openers, I present to you State Senator Jim Merritt. He and I have been friends for a long time. Old friends, and I mean “long time” not elderly, don’t surprise each other all that often. But last week he did surprise me.
He got a call from Shatterproof, a national addiction recovery group, who was organizing an event for about thirty people to rappel down the 15-story Indianapolis Westin. The goal was to raise awareness and money for addiction and recovery. I hope they do it here every September. Merritt turned out to be the perfect headliner. He has been all over Indiana the last few years picking a fight with addiction, and heroin in particular. Oh and by the way, he had never rappelled before, and I am pretty sure he wasn’t planning on it, ever. But he answered the call, took a few deep breaths, and suited up. Indiana needs to throw gas on his fire.
So are we?
Also this month, Governor Pence kicked off his new Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment and Prevention. On the surface, this sounds like the beginning of something good. It’s launch though seems to have a purposeful lack of energy. After its first meeting, it seems pretty clear why.
John Hill, Pence’s deputy chief of staff and task force co-chairman reported that he only plans to recommend to the Governor to seek greater flexibility to use federal health funds for drug treatment and to have state agencies promote widespread use of nalaxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug. He also said he remains undecided on how to spend the $30 million the legislature set aside in the recently passed budget for this purpose. The reluctance to spend any money on anything seems to be the anchor around our state’s neck again.
It has been nearly five months since the legislature passed the budget. There is no good reason for the administration to still be undecided on this $30 million opportunity. But since they are, let me help them start.
First, follow Senator Merritt’s lead and surrender. Face the reality that, as one law enforcement official said last week, “we can’t arrest our way out of the problem.” Indiana has rewritten its criminal code and is adjusting downward the sentencing for substance abuse and addiction related crimes. This generates savings that logically should be shifted from those failed policies to modern ones.
Use the $30 million seed money to begin the development of a strategic plan for recovery services. I don’t mean a two year plan. I mean a ten year plan. The savings from reduced sentencing alone should help shift future budgets that direction.
Second, add a family representative or two to the Task Force. Preferably one that has experienced addiction and recovery while in Indiana and can help the rest of the blue ribbon wearers with some daily reality checks. If you can’t find a good family to fill this obvious void, call me.
Finally, send the entire task force to Washington in two weeks for the October 4 UNITE To Face Addiction Rally on the Mall. In fact, get the right person from Scott County on the agenda as a presenter of unique but growing circumstances in our nation’s fight against this scourge. It should only cost a few thousand dollars of the $30 million we have.
One of the first things an addict has to do to recover from addiction is to surrender. Surrendering effectively ends the fight over whether or not the substance won. In every case of addiction, the substance wins. In our culture, our war on drugs failed because it was a war on the supply. Facing addiction for what it is, and expanding available recovery services for it, is our beginning of the war on demand.
If we want to be brave about this, we need to surrender first. Senator Merritt didn’t want to rappel down that wall. But I am glad he did. In the end it may be a small gesture in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, it is an example of what we as a state need to do to get this new war going.
So let’s pile into a bus filled with the new task force, some families, some people in recovery and anyone else who has the time and head east in two weeks. Go to facingaddiction.org for the schedule. A big rally on the Mall is a great way to start.
We have the courage to do this. Let’s find a big wall in DC and prove it. Some of us already have the clothes.