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Let’s take a holistic approach to helping addicts

by Daily Inter Lake
| September 18, 2022 12:00 AM

Gov. Greg Gianforte got a candid assessment of the public safety situation, particularly as it relates to drug use, in the valley from a selection of Flathead County’s elected leaders and law enforcement officials last week, and the prognosis is worrying. Service requests are up, law enforcement is stretched thin and drug-fueled crimes — as well as associated mental health calls — are on the rise.

Along with highlighting initiatives aimed at aiding Montanans struggling with addiction, the governor accepted a raft of suggestions for how to aid the county in addressing its substance abuse problem. Ideas pitched included tougher penalties for drunk driving, freeing up state money for for-profit treatment centers, coordination between different law enforcement agencies, educational programming and changes to state law to allow probation and parole officers to intervene earlier with offenders spiraling into – or back into – active addiction.

All good ideas, but what stood out as particularly compelling were the insights from Chad and Kat Kingery of Alpenglow Clinic. While everyone at the roundtable had experience with substance abuse, the couple daily shepherds former addicts into a productive role in society.

The two pointed out that recovering addicts often must start from scratch, cutting ties with friends and families, and rebuilding a life for themselves. They also must, after getting clean, figure out what they want out of life, now that the all-consuming minute-by-minute need to use drugs has dissipated.

Kat Kingery pointed to Alpenglow’s new life addiction counseling program, which she described as addressing a “huge missing component” in the region’s response to addiction.

“It pushes them into reintegration into a healthy society,” Kat Kingery said. “We need to be setting them up [for] long term success with basic needs and jobs.”

It’s not easy to think of the drug users hauled into our county jail, often after committing a number of crimes, as people in need of comfort and succor. But they need help, and they often need more than directions to the nearest 12-step program, though that remains a good starting place.

While the state has tentatively stepped in the right direction, by establishing the Healing and Ending Addiction Through Recovery and Treatment (HEART) Fund and the Angel Initiative, which aim to open treatment options up to receptive addicts, there remains room for improvement. Programs, like the one highlighted by the Kingerys, look beyond giving an addict a “spin dry,” in the parlance of the industry. Perhaps, funding could be made available for efforts like this, which seek to put recovering addicts on a firm foundation — housing, work, basic necessities and coaching — to come away with a productive life.

The state, it bears pointing out, is presently looking at a budget surplus north of $1 billion. The roughly $25 million in spending toward treatment authorized as part of the HEART Fund pales in comparison.

It comes down to what we, as a community, want. Do we want to punish addicts? If so, we need to gird ourselves for the cost of a larger detention facility, a much larger one if the regular stream of addicts in and out of the courthouse is any indication, and the costs of housing those addicts. We also must be prepared to deal personally with those local law enforcement officials who don’t have the capacity to sweep up, and the fallout from their associated crimes: burglary, robbery, driving under the influence, assault and trafficking.

The other option, the holistic approach, is not a quick solution nor a silver bullet. It may look costly. Still, in the long run, doesn’t it make sense, from a fiscal as well as a humanitarian perspective, to help people become productive members of society?

As Kalispell Police Chief Doug Overman put it so succinctly to the governor: “Everything has a cost, how do you want to pay it?”

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