Progress in a Tough Battle on Drug Epidemic
Nearly three years ago, our city of Huntington, West Virginia made national headlines after 26 people overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin in one afternoon.
Given the negative image that accrued from such notice, it was heartening to see a mid-June follow-up report on 60 Minutes. It spotlighted the efforts since that have registered significant progress in combating the drug epidemic.
Until watching the program, I didn’t know that overdoses had declined by 40 percent and drug-related homicides by 70 percent since 2016.
Maybe it is a sign of things being darkest before the dawn.
It wasn’t just that progress has occurred that was so encouraging, but how.
CBS gave much of the credit to Krishawna Harless, who was added to the department as a social worker specializing in mental health addiction.
Harless often accompanies Capt. Rocky Johnson on drug raids to talk with detainees about entering rehab or treatment programs, giving them her card and telling them they can call or text her 24-7.
The program noted that Harless stands just under five feet tall, which demonstrates that impact doesn’t revolve around size.
“Basically, our city was in a crisis,” she told reporter Sharyn Alfonsi. “And their officers were exhausted.”
“They couldn’t arrest their way out of it. I had to get to the street, and I had to really meet with people all the time and be there all the time.”
An interesting side note was Johnson’s comment that people who once refused to even talk to him were now open to communicating with authorities.
Having had loved ones or friends whose family members have been ensnared by drugs, I know what a tough battle drug addiction poses.
It isn’t the kind of simple situation where everyone can join hands and sing “Kumbya” and hope the mess will go away.
Indeed, the program profiled one user who had stayed clean for more than a year before he relapsed and died of an overdose.
It’s the kind of frustrating setback that is maddening to everyone who works with addicts and their loved ones.
Still, the progress made by the Huntington Police Department illustrates the value of conversation and reaching out to addicts instead of just arresting them and throwing them into the “system.”
The story mentioned how Harless’ work with those needing help frees up the police to spend more time going after the dealers who exacerbate the crisis.
It also is quite productive: CBS said 73 percent of the people Harless has worked with have entered rehab.
That means dozens and dozens of people off the street and into safe places where they can work on turning their lives around, plus hopefully find gainful employment.
I see a larger corollary to the positive steps the police have made by adding a social worker to the drug unit.
The first lesson is how seeking to understand others and make efforts to build bridges can bring healing, hope, and reconciliation instead of reaping further division and conflict.
Imagine such a balm applied to our fractured political situation and other arenas where the inclination is to take up arms and try to outmuscle the opposition.
The results of such ongoing, intractable disputes is the paralysis that characterizes Washington, D.C., not to mention countless state capitals and city halls.
Looks like Huntington’s solution has much wider application than just our city.