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  • Drug addiction is a disease, not a personal failing

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    April 11, 2017

    Tamie Sullivan is a Hyde Park resident, community activist, small business owner and candidate for Cincinnati City Council.

    Cincinnati needs a stronger and more comprehensive response if we are ever going to get our arms around our decades-long struggle with drug abuse and the toll it takes on social services, health care, law enforcement, and criminal justice systems.

    The opiate epidemic dominates our headlines and is now recognized as the public health crisis that it is.

    The modern drug war was launched four decades ago, per the article “White opioid epidemic fuels black frustration,” in USA Today–The Enquirer on March 28. But even back then, many of us were focused on drug prevention and treatment. Grassroots drug prevention began in our community in the 1980s when Citizens Against Substance Abuse was formed in direct response to drug usage that was tearing families apart.

    In 1996, I was tapped to serve as the first executive director of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati (now PreventionFIRST!), founded by Sen. Rob Portman with Ohio First Lady Emeritus Hope Taft, Rev. Dr. Damon Lynch, Jr. and John Pepper.

    Supported by the science, we engaged parents, the faith community, businesses, schools, coaches and other caring adults to prevent drug use among young people by increasing the perception of risk and sending a clear no-use message.

    Opiate addiction, just as other drug addiction and the violence associated with it, tears families apart and damages the very fabric of a community. Family and community are the things I hold most dear. That’s one of the reasons why I’m running for Cincinnati City Council, because I know we can do better, much better.

    While law enforcement has an important role to play with interdiction and arresting drug dealers, we have known for a long time that we would never “arrest our way out” of the drug problem.

    This is where our task becomes complicated, uncomfortable and messy. As a community, we must recognize addiction to alcohol or drugs as a chronic but treatable brain disease, not a personal failing. By criminalizing drug possession and jailing non-violent addicts in the past, we filled the criminal justice system with people who, like the opiate addicts today, needed drug treatment.

    I talk with concerned citizens and continue to seek counsel from community leaders, including the pastors that I met and worked with more than 20 years ago, Rev. Damon Lynch, Jr. and Rev. Peterson Mingo. They saw the plague first hand as drugs eroded our community, including the neighborhoods where they live and work. Leaders like Lynch, Mingo and so many others continue to work to prevent young people from taking drugs, and also to keep them from being attracted to a lifestyle of drugs, crime and violence.

    Heroin is unlike any previous drug epidemic, in terms of the number of babies born addicted, children entering foster care, overdose deaths, human trafficking, and other crimes associated with addiction. Cincinnati Police officers have taken on the new role by providing emergency medical services by injecting Narcan to bring someone back from a potentially fatal overdose. While this new role is vital, it should not increasingly fall to law enforcement, whose priority must be to focus on violent crime.

    As a community, we need to collaborate with law enforcement to provide immediate access to treatment for non-violent offenders, keeping people with any substance use disorder, whether it’s opiates, crack cocaine or meth, in the health care system and out of the criminal justice system.

    A comprehensive response to our community’s opiate epidemic includes prevention/education, treatment, law enforcement and recovery. While the U.S. Congress and the State of Ohio allocate funds to address the issue, the work must be done at the local level.

    As I talk to voters from Mount Washington to Walnut Hills, Northside to East Price Hill, the opiate epidemic is a top concern for their neighborhood safety and quality of life. We have a choice about whether we roll up our sleeves or ignore it and hope it will go away.

    And when we act together, we can restore people who are hurt and suffering to health and productivity.  As a result, their families, friends and communities will begin to heal.

    As a member of Cincinnati City Council, I would:

    Increase awareness for prescription drug “take-back days” in partnership with local law enforcement;
    • Work with neighborhood community councils to connect them with grassroots drug prevention strategies;
    • Advocate for drug prevention education that starts in preschool;
    • Offer to serve as a City of Cincinnati partner on anti-drug initiatives;
    • Improve collaboration with the City Health Department, so all public health initiatives address drug use and offer increased access to treatment; and
    • Increase awareness for a proud and vibrant recovery community.  
    Voting for Tamie Sullivan for City Council may not end the opiate disease overnight, but putting someone on City Council who has experience in successfully addressing the complexity of the issue is a great start. I respectfully ask for your consideration and your first choice vote this November.