By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Last week I was privileged to attend an event hosted by Attorney General Daniel Cameron at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park. Ostensibly a panel on the fentanyl problem, and strategies for confronting and addressing it, it was in many ways a stealth campaign event for Cameron’s eventual run for governor. He criticized the president and made statements of the tough-on-crime platform he would enact if empowered to do so, including discussion of his stances on border policies, something many Kentuckians worry about, and just as many think is a distraction from issues inside the state. Ironically, after Cameron insisted the Mexican border was a source of fentanyl coming into Kentucky in his statements, a law enforcement officer noted that the main source of fentanyl in eastern Kentucky is coming across the northern border, from Canada, through Detroit, and south into Kentucky.
Also ironic is the fact that while we’re one of the most impoverished regions in the state, and nation, the officer noted that in Detroit they refer to Ashland as “Cashland” and to Huntington as “Moneyton.”
This was one of many missed opportunities throughout the afternoon to discuss the connection between our lack of economic opportunities and the scourge of addiction and exploitation of that it breeds. Another was when the director of the KY Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission noted that the gap in opioid related deaths between black and white Kentuckians – once so prevalent among rural, white Appalachians that it coined the term “hillbilly heroin” to describe the Oxycontin addiction problem – had closed.
But if Cameron and Opioid Abatement director Hubbard were in campaign mode, I hope they were also in listening mode, because law enforcement, judges, and local people had plenty to say about what it is we need, locally, to address this problem here at home.
Law enforcement discussed working their way “up the food chain” to take the suppliers out at their source, instead of continuously arresting low level users. This is something that might lead back to the Mexican border, after all the same law enforcement officer who said the fentanyl is coming from Canada noted that methamphetamine does flow north into Kentucky (and some of it contains added fentanyl).
Judges backed this up, noting that the old way of doling out punitive sentences hasn’t impacted the problem, but allowing more treatment options has had a positive impact on many lives.
Some people wanted to see more punishment, but most were asking for more treatment opportunities. After years of fighting the problem, police see the issue differently too. They recognize that no one wants to be an addict. That it’s a struggle for them, and a cycle they want to break.
We hope that Cameron takes away how complex the issue is in eastern Kentucky, how it’s impacted every person and family without fail, and how the people here are looking for a way to move forward with healing.
Cameron can feel however he wants about the border, the president, and other national issues. You and I might even agree with him on some of those things. But his focus needs to be on the things he can do in Kentucky, particularly eastern Kentucky, if he hopes to be effective in his current job, or to be chosen for the one he aspires to.
Mexico matters. But it’s a long way from Kentucky and where a governor’s gaze needs to be.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org