The fight against opioids was pushed to the forefront recently in Loudon County.
Align 9, a nonprofit within District Attorney General Russell Johnson’s office, launched The Prevention Alliance of Loudon County late last month. Then the 9th Judicial District Drug Task Force announced it was adding officers from Lenoir City Police Department and Loudon County Sheriff’s Office to its staff for better cooperation and countywide representation. Both are good moves.
The Prevention Alliance is a valuable tool to urge residents to avoid drugs in the first place. The group intends through educational awareness to put a focus on tobacco use among ages 12-17, binge drinking among ages 14-25 and non-medical prescription drug use in the general population, using Positive Peer Pressure clubs in schools and Count It, Lock It, Drop It programs across the community.
When prevention inevitably fails, law enforcement in general and the drug task force in particular are forced to step in and deal with criminals who peddle the filth that ruins individuals and devastates families.
But simply locking up drug users accomplishes little more than filling up the local jail. With a jail expansion in progress to deal with overcrowding largely fueled by the drug crisis, other steps must be taken to prevent filling up the new facility the day it opens.
Loudon County needs readily available recovery programs for drug users to clean up and get turned around. When those users clean up, the community needs to support them in returning to lives as workers, neighbors and contributing community members. Such support includes:
• Local churches and other public community spaces offering places where people can gather for guidance and help.
• Professional services that offer counseling, rehabilitation and job support to help addicts get back on their feet.
• Local schools continuing to provide students with the tools needed to make healthy, responsible and safe choices as they navigate life.
The challenge is for local government to provide leadership to tackle the issue with more than just law enforcement funding. Despite the best of efforts, cops and courts can’t ultimately solve this epidemic that isn’t isolated by race, gender or socioeconomic status.
We urge the formation of a countywide task force comprised of leaders from the county, our cities, local schools and business and industry to examine what else can be done locally to combat this scourge that impacts all of us. Instead of repeating hyperbole, the folks we elect to public office should stand in the gap and inspire the larger community to join the cause, as well as recognize that any real solution to the problem will likely require funding and infrastructure.
Unless our community comes together in solidarity and action, it is a problem we cannot solve.