(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 11th in a series of stories concerning the opioid crisis that our communities are facing, presented as a cooperative effort of The Ledger Independent, WFTM Radio and Comprehend, Inc. Today’s story deals withcopurt system and the challenges faced in connection with drugs in the community.)
Opioids and addiction have a firm grasp on those who are ensnared by it, and the range of the epidemic in Kentucky doesn’t just affect the individual.
Mason County Attorney John Estill has experienced first and foremost the effects opioids have had on the justice system.
As county attorney, some of Estill’s duties involve serving as attorney for the jail and county, prosecutor of misdemeanors and some starting felonies and, in the case of drug addiction, assist people in Casey’s Law cases. The opioid epidemic, according to Estill, spans more than just opioids itself.
“That’s what we call it,” he said, referring to the opioid epidemic, “but it started with prescription drugs — Florida pill mills, theft of pills, but something that is by nature legal, but used illegally.”
What was once abuse of prescription medication has now evolved into addicts using far deadlier substitutes.
“Still, we deal with opiates with heroin, but a much broader problem in that once you thought of only an opioid problem, now we’re seeing when people come into jail having opiates — cocaine, methamphetamine and methamphetamine is really blowing up here as a cheap and dangerous type of drug.”
The nature of Estill’s job has changed in the face of this epidemic, with the types of cases he sees and the means he uses to respond to them. This surge of substance abuse cases has also taken its toll on the jail system, where inmates are admitted with far more problems than addiction.
“Today there’s such a boom of drug offenses and drug addicted persons we’re dealing with that a number of things we find is we can’t afford to incarcerate them, the state will not incarcerate them.” Estill said. “People have accompanying health problems, staph infections, MRSA, other mental or psychiatric problems that jail not only doesn’t work, but we can’t afford to do that.”
To remedy the financial constraint institutionalizing addicts, Estill said jails have been attempting to focus on finding treatment options for drug offenders. Estill said he was involved in collaborating with Commonwealth’s Attorney Kelly Clarke to promote the rocket docket program, which he said expedites cases and gets people into treatment programs. The funds saved in Mason County, according to Estill, is about $395,000 due to rocket dockets.
Executive Director of CASA for Bracken, Mason and Fleming County Shanda Hamilton says the epidemic also deeply affects the children of parents and families that abuse substances. CASA is a non-profit group of volunteers who are appointed by the district judge to act as a representative for abused or neglected children.
“The children that we are involved in, we see that it impacts them in multiple ways,” Hamilton said. “It’s automatically trauma that the kids experience. A lot of times, they are removed from their homes, and when they are removed they leave everything behind. Not only do they lose their family that they’ve loved, that they’re accustomed to, but they lose their home, their bed, their toys; they lose it all.”
Children transitioning away from their families and the only life they’ve known is always difficult, Hamilton said. Many children, despite the conditions they were living in, still resist the change. In many cases, the children “always want to go home,” she said, “they always want to be with their parents.”
Hamilton and Estill both feel their stations and organizations are responsible for finding solutions to issues drug addiction brings to the community. Estill, despite seeing a lack of success with long-term treatment programs, is determined to fight the good fight.
“Can I say that we’re horribly successful? Absolutely not,” Estill said, “but you ask if we’re committed or feel responsible, absolutely. It’s an ‘in the trenches’ approach, and you hope that we’re successful and hope that success grows.”
Hamilton said she would love to see more people rise to the occasion to help children and become a CASA volunteer and to be more involved in the community. She believes building the community into more of a family, through holding several events that invite the community to participate, will better encourage people to intervene when incidents arise.
“There’s things we want to promote, not only to our community, but CASA,” Hamilton said. “We just want well-being within our communities, within our families.”