Tuesday, April 14, 2015
COVINGTON – The stigma of drug addiction, the stigma of using medicine to treat it, the stigma of needle exchange and the idea that a life-saving drug shouldn't be used for overdose victims all need to end.
Michael Botticelli, the director of White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, delivered these messages when he visited Northern Kentucky on Thursday.
Botticelli made it clear while at the Metropolitan Club in Covington at the invitation of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce that he is in favor of using naloxone to save lives. The non-narcotic blocks the effects of heroin or prescription painkillers and can restore breathing in overdose victims.
"Every life is worth saving," Botticelli told an audience member who questioned whether the drug enables addicts to continue to use heroin. He added that there is no indication that drug addicts will feel safer using heroin because they have access to naloxone.
Botticelli urged a holistic approach, providing both prevention lessons to young children and families and using every treatment and counseling option to help addicts.
He lauded the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's efforts in the regional heroin fight saying he knows of no other chamber in the nation that has stepped forward to help manage the crisis.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he brought Botticelli to the region to learn about its plight with the opioid and heroin epidemic that is plaguing the nation and, particularly, coursing through Northern Kentucky.
"I am here with the director of drug control policy (appointed by President Barack Obama) because this is beyond partisan debate," the Senate majority leader told chamber members, families advocating recovery, treatment and public health officials at the event.
Listing statistic after statistic, from the tripling of St. Elizabeth Healthcare's emergency care of overdose victims since 2011 to Kentucky's 1,049 lost lives to overdoses in 2013, McConnell said, "In Northern Kentucky, we're at the epicenter" of the crisis with heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.
Earlier in the day, Botticelli was given a private tour of St. Elizabeth Healthcare – Edgewood, where he visited the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to see newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. He heard from Dr. Lynn Saddler, director of the Northern Kentucky Health Department; Jason Merrick, chairman of Northern Kentucky People Advocating Recover; Bonnie Hedrick, coordinator of the NKY Prevention Alliance and others who have joined in the local fight against heroin.
They said Botticelli offered ideas on how they can tap into federal funds available for community substance abuse prevention and support.
In an exclusive interview with The Enquirer, Botticelli said drug courts, treatment centers and corrections systems need to provide medicine assisted treatment, and not just abstinence programs.
"Evidence is strikingly clear that people with opioid disorder do remarkably better with medication assisted treatment – along with counseling," Botticelli told The Enquirer. "It's our hope that medication assisted treatment is the standard of care."
Toward that end, the anti-drug czar said, his office has changed its policy – and has made the inclusion of medicine assisted treatment a condition for state drug courts to receive federal funds.
Kentucky has come under criticism because its drug courts – with the exception of Pulaski County's – require abstinence. Judges even require addicts who have been prescribed medicine for their addiction to taper off of it as a condition of remaining in drug court. But Northern Kentucky drug courts are primarily funded by the state. Only a few counties – none in Northern Kentucky – use federal funds, and that is for training, according to the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts.
Botticelli said the federal government is also urging treatment centers to use "every option" available to treat those with addiction, and noted that for opioid and heroin addicts, scientific evidence shows medicine-assisted treatment often works best.
Kimberly Wright of Cold Spring, an activist in the heroin fight and mother of a daughter who is a recovering heroin addict, said she hopes that Kentucky listens to the message.
"We need medicine assisted treatment in Kentucky drug courts. We need an overhaul of our rehabs (to include it)," Wright said.
Joan Arlinghaus, a member of NKY People Advocating Recovery, believes Botticelli's visit was valuable for the region.
"I think it will raise a lot of awareness," she said, "and erase some of the stigma that comes with addiction."