State and local human services agencies, backed by the federal government, must pool their services to combat the scourge of substance use disorders that led to 108,000 overdose deaths last year, according to the general counsel for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“It’s no longer an ‘either’ proposition, a treatment rather than a drug. We’re losing 100,000 people, so that’s all we can think of to reach people before they die,” said Rob Kent of Haymarket, Va., a Syracuse native who served as general counsel at New York State Office of Addiction. Services and supports for 13 years prior to his appointment to the Biden administration.
Kent spoke at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road as a guest of the Genesee/Orléans Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, which kicked off its National Recovery Month activities this morning. About 30 people from GCASA and other organizations attended.
As a key figure in passing the 150-page national drug control strategy, Kent said his office places a high priority on harm reduction – principles and services that include prevention, testing, treatment and care, as well as the distribution of overdose reversal supplies such as naloxone kits (NARCAN), fentanyl test strips, sharps and medication disposal kits, and needles and syringes sterile.
Kent said billions of dollars have been earmarked for this initiative.
“We’ve been accused of being very heavy-handed on harm reduction strategy by some people in Congress, but we have to be — we have to reach people before they die,” Kent said. “We have to connect them.”
He added that he would use all applicable laws in an effort to save lives.
‘THE RIGHT THING TO DO’
“I’m absolutely not interested in winning people’s hearts and minds. We will force them to do what they have to do because the law helps us. They will understand, by the way, later that it was the right thing to do on a human level,” he said. “They may not be there at first…but they’ll find out when they do.”
Kent said he kept the goal of reducing drug overdose deaths at the forefront of his mind as he drafted the criminal justice section of the national strategy.
“I will say that I am proud of the document; we think it’s a good plan,” he said. “We’re going to go around the country trying to tell people what we think needs to be done to stop the number of people dying from drug overdoses.”
He stressed that law enforcement must stop arresting people for drug use or possession.
“It just doesn’t work and it didn’t work,” he said. “It overwhelms the criminal justice system with people they really aren’t equipped with. We want people to be turned away, turned away. And we’ve drafted model laws for states. And I’m going to preach it everywhere I go. We should provide help and services to these people, whatever that means.
Kent acknowledged that people with addictions commit crimes and that those people may have received counseling and drug treatment in the community.
AID TO PRISONERS
“We can’t end this when they end up in state and local prison. We have to keep it that way,” he said, noting that prisons in Niagara, Monroe, Erie and other counties in New York state offer medication for opioid use disorder. “We need a plan and relationships, before they re-enter society…and we’re working on that across the country.”
One such link at the grassroots level is the GCASA Reintegration Program, which provides case management, peer recovery support and housing to people returning to the community after incarceration.
He said another priority was “to massively increase access to naloxone”.
“Personally, I think everyone should wear naloxone. And I say that everywhere I go, and some people will be like, ‘No, I don’t need to wear that because I’m not into that kind of thing. of people.” And I politely say, “Well, you are.”
Calling the addiction “a human addiction”, Kent said it’s about caring for others and showing love to those in need.
“I don’t like throwing numbers around because they are people (who are dead),” he said. “Yesterday I spoke in Rochester, and a woman came up to me and gave me the church card for her daughter. She was 27 and passed away in April. Once. It only takes once now.
CARTELS POISONE AMERICA
Kent was referring to the fentanyl epidemic being fueled by cartels south of the border.
“Not only do I know what’s happening on the demand side – on the treatment, prevention, recovery and harm reduction side, but I hear about what’s happening,” he said. . “And it’s scary. Cartels are now squeezing fentanyl into fake pills, fake oxycontin, Adderall, Xanax, etc. And most people don’t even know it.
He said people would come in and say they were using meth or cocaine, “and when you test the drugs, it’s fentanyl. This is what is happening.
Kent credited professionals from GCASA, mental health and other agencies who invested their lives in seeing others recover and succeed.
“If you don’t think the staff of a program are pained when one of their parents who left dies, then you don’t understand the programs,” he shared. “I have been to too many conferences where staff have come up to me and told me about the trauma they are going through because people have dropped out of treatment. Before, when people left (treatment), they could come back. They might not now.
Photo: From left, Lynda Battaglia, Genesee County Mental Health and Community Services Director; Avi Israel, president and founder of Save the Michaels of the World, Inc., of Buffalo; Rob Kent, general counsel for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; John Bennett, executive director of the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse; Danielle Figura, director of community services for the Orleans County Department of Mental Health. Photo by Mike Pettinella.
Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is GCASA’s publicist.