The opioid crisis has caused plenty of questions, but very few answers have been found so far. On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Senator Rand Paul joined local leaders in the war against opioids in a round-table discussion of what possible solutions can be found on all levels.
The discussion took place at the Lake Hills Oasis addiction treatment center on Jordans Way.
Joining Paul in the discussion were Tim Robinson, Kayla Parsons and Derrick Clark from Addiction Recovery Care (ARC); County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley; Elaine Eggers with ARMS (Addiction Resources, Mentoring and Supporting) of Hope; and Jennifer Witt with Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education).
Paul opened the program by admitting the medical field's role in the crisis.
"As a physician, I think physicians deserve some of the blame. We all probably deserve some of the blame. I think physicians got carried away with prescribing opiates," Paul said.
He traced the issue to physicians seeing a paragraph from the New England Journal of Medicine which said that opiates were not addictive for the treatment of acute pain.
"They probably aren't that addictive if they're used for a couple of days in the hospital for a lot of pain, but they took that, and they extrapolated to say, 'I guess three months is the same as three days.'" Paul said.
At Paul's inquiry of whether deaths have peaked in this area, Kelley informed the panel that Pulaski has seen fewer opioid deaths this year than in times past. "I think we are past that peak. We're very hopeful about that."
Kelley then likened the opioid crisis and the different "moving parts" in place to correct it to working a jigsaw puzzle with not all of the pieces on the table.
Because of changes in legislation, people and programs, "It's almost like were bringing all these pieces in and then turning off the lights and trying to work our puzzle," Kelley said.
In an incident that illustrated that point, Eggers asked about how the implementation of Casey's Law - a law that allows family members to send a loved one to court-ordered drug treatment against the will of that patient - could be more uniformly enforced across the state.
U.S. Senator Paul admitted he was out of the loop when it came to that specific state law. When the law was described to him, Paul asked for clarification on whether the patient's civil rights were taken away from them. "I guess I have some worry about it, to tell you the truth. As much as I'm for addiction recovery, I kind of think it should be the will of whoever themselves. I don't know about forcing it."
Robinson, the CEO of ARC, clarified that the process was not easy for the family and required proof that the addict was in immediate danger of losing their life.
"People don't have to want help to get help," Robinson said, with several members of the audience responding with "amen."
Panelist and ARC member Derrick Clark, related his experience of becoming addicted to opioids after being injured in Afghanistan while serving in the Marine Corps. He said he sought treatment through the VA hospital and never recovered.
It was only when he received a bed at Lake Hills Oasis - paid for by them - that he found recovery, he said.
"I found something here through a spiritual program that treats the whole person that the VA didn't offer," Clark said.
He asked Paul how the VA could begin to offer more programs like Lake Hills Oasis to help veterans, rather than having them wait 90 days for treatment.
Paul responded that he felt part of the solution would be through the expansion of the Choice Card program, where veterans can be seen by a back-up provider if they can't be seen by the VA in 30 days.
When he asked whether the Choice Card could be used for programs like Lake Hills Oasis, Clark responded that the process was "very, very difficult."
Paul responded, "That I believe. That's called government red tape."