Last week, President Obama traveled to Charleston, West Virginia, for a candid conversation about substance abuse.
Before leading a panel discussion, the president talked about the startling toll that substance abuse has taken on the country and on the Mountain State in particular.
The problem has reached epidemic proportions as 44 people in the United States die each day from overdoses of prescription painkillers. West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the country with nearly 34 per 100,000 residents.
“The numbers are big,” said Obama. “But behind those numbers are incredible pain for families.”
Hours after watching the president’s remarks on television, one man took a brave step to change his life.
He called 911, admitted he had a drug problem, and asked deputies to come to his home.
When they arrived, the man (whose name was not released) put his hands on the wall and directed the deputies to a cooler full of drugs and paraphernalia, including marijuana, ecstasy, pain pills, and a digital scale.
A photo of the items seized by the police. Photo by Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, used with permission.
And the officers did something equally impressive: They didn’t arrest him.
Instead, the man was taken by ambulance to a treatment center, where he voluntarily entered a rehabilitation program. The sheriff’s department declined to file charges and released a statement saying, “We applaud this person’s self-initiated efforts and wish him well in his recovery.”
The complex problem of substance will require an innovative, all-hands-on-deck solution.
It’s a multifaceted problem (affecting the health care industry, criminal justice system, border security, and schools) that will require a complex, dynamic solution.
And some are trying to find those solutions. In the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Police Chief Leonard Campanello announced this summer that his officers would no longer arrest drug users who came to them seeking help. In the first two months of the program, over 100 people entered treatment.
But we don’t have to wait for a silver bullet. We can take a cue from Gloucester and Kanawha County and start with one fewer arrest and one more person in treatment.
They’re saving families communities from one more tragedy.