Knights call for action on drug crisis

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer

Jim Fields, a clinical psychologist in formation for the diaconate in the Archdiocese of Louisville, was one of the panelist Sept. 21. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)
Jim Fields, a clinical psychologist in formation for the diaconate in the Archdiocese of Louisville, was one of the panelist Sept. 21. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The opioid epidemic sweeping Kentucky is on the minds of many — it has captured headlines and dominated conversations among citizens and lawmakers alike.

Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville are joining the conversation, too. A group of more than 40 people gathered the night of Sept. 21 at St. Bernadette Church in Prospect, Ky., to hear a panel of professionals discuss the “opioid crisis” and how to help. The Knights of Columbus organized the event to raise awareness about the issue.

Only the day before, local media outlets reported that a joint House-Senate Health and Welfare Committee met in Frankfort, Ky., for a day-long session where committee members heard from experts on the addiction facing the state.

According to a report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, 1,404 people, 364 in Jefferson County, died from drug overdoses in 2016. The report also found that an increase in the use of fentanyl, an opioid pain medication being illegally manufactured, contributed to these overdose deaths. Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky had the highest numbers of overdose deaths, according to the report.

The panel discussion at St. Bernadette, entitled “Taking Action on the Opioid Crisis,”  brought together a group of six professionals.

Jim Fields, a clinical psychologist who is in formation to be a deacon, was one of the panelists. Fields, a member of St. Bernadette Church, said the abuse of opioids is an “epidemic like nothing” he’s seen before. When he started his practice more than 20 years ago, he regularly saw patients with alcohol addiction. Over the past 10 years, however, that has changed. Conversations about opioid addiction have become “routine in his practice,” he said.

John Luker, left, an emergency medical technician in Oldham County, spoke about his experience with victims of opiate overdose during the “Taking Action on the Opioid Crisis” at St. Bernadette Church Sept. 21. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)
John Luker, left, an emergency medical technician in Oldham County, spoke about his experience with victims of opiate overdose during the “Taking Action on the Opioid Crisis” at St. Bernadette Church Sept. 21. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

John Luker, an emergency medical technician in Oldham County, noted that the drug problem in Kentucky extends to more than opioids. Luker said he has seen more of a problem with synthetic marijuana use in Oldham County than the use of opiates, such as heroin and fentanyl. Luker noted that the marijuana being used today is very different from that used a few years ago.

He said that high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in synthetic marijuana causes “erratic” behavior in users. Luker said he and other EMTs have responded to numerous calls for individuals suffering from seizures only to find out that it was a reaction from using marijuana. Luker said the state not only has an opioid problem but an “addiction” problem.

But how does the problem start and how can it be treated?

Matthew La Rocco, a certified alcohol and drug counselor for the Department of Public Health and Wellness, told his listeners that primary care physicians should play more of a role in talking to individuals about the dangers of drug use. Not all addicts are using illegally, or at least they don’t all begin that way.

La Rocco said that when  writing a prescription for pain medication, doctors should inquire about “issues that may increase the likelihood that someone may have a problem with addiction.” Some of these issues include drug use in the past, family history of drug use and experiences with verbal, physical or sexual abuse.

Also, he noted, doctors should provide these patients with information about where to seek help if they develop a problem with the pain medication prescribed.
“These are conversations that don’t get frequently had at doctors’ offices because Medicaid and private insurance don’t pay for these services,” said La Rocco.

John Walsh — one of the panelists and founder of the More Center, which treats individuals with opioid addiction — said it’s important to understand that individuals who are addicted are not capable of finding help for themselves. Many addicted individuals are delusional, thinking they can control their addiction, he said.

“That’s not a defense for them. That’s a reality,” he said. People who are addicted to drugs “don’t have the capability of putting the next foot in front of the other to take themselves out of it.”
That’s why he noted, “court intervention or institutional intervention” is sometimes what puts them in a position to receive help.

Russ Read, another of the panelists, called addiction an “emotional and physical disease.” Read works with men recovering from addiction at Beacon House. Recovery from addiction requires a “continuum of care,” one that lasts for as long as it needs and involves counseling and treatment, which addresses the physical and chemical aspects of the disease, he said.

“That’s the message we need to get out to our young people and those suffering from addiction,” said Read. “You have to be patient. I tell the guys (at Beacon House) that this isn’t going to go away in 30 days.”

The panelists agreed that teaching children to stay away from drugs is still the best prevention method.

The panel was organized by Catholic Charities and the Knights of Columbus following a story in The Record newspaper, earlier this year, where Linda Squire shared her story about losing her son Jonathan to an accidental overdose of fentanyl. Squire was also part of the panel discussion. She urges families to avoid stigmas related to addiction and take swift action to aid addicts.

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