I attended the Shelby County Board of Commissioners meeting in Memphis, Tennessee on April 11,2018. There were 16 committee items on the agenda. I shall focus on the second item which was entitled “Hospitals and Health”. Under this heading, a 30 minute discussion was allotted to “opioids”. The discussion was conducted by Chairman Heidi Shafer (district 5) and Commissioner Reginald Milton (district 10). The purpose of the discussion was for the two commissioners to provide account of a recent fact-finding mission that they had taken to the city of Huntington West Virginia. The fact-finding mission was taken at the advisement of Washington D.C. political leaders. The primary reason for the mission was to provide an up-close and personal look at how Huntington was handling their epidemic drug addiction problem. The commissioners saw how Huntington is coordinating many of their agencies, police department, hospitals and other health care facilities to assist in providing opportunities for drug rehabilitation for a large percentage of their citizens who are addicted methamphetamine (meth), and other opioids. The commissioners saw that the alternatives to incarceration that Huntington is providing is a more just and humane approach to protecting the liberty and human rights of it’s citizens. The old ” lock them up and throw away the key” only exacerbates an unjust situation. The “three strikes you’re out” should only apply to a baseball game.
The city of Huntington has a population of one hundred thousand residents. Ten thousand are addicted to meth. Meth is an illicit drug which means that it is illegal to use for recreational purposes. The penalty for it’s illegal use carries a felony charge and a fine. Once a person gets a felony charge on his criminal record, he becomes constitutionally disenfranchised of benefits that he would otherwise be privileged to. Many states do not grant the right for felons to vote in elections. Only two states (Vermont and Maine), allow felons to vote while incarcerated. Felons are not allowed to serve in the U.S. armed services. Felons cannot qualify for federally subsidized (section 8) housing.In many states, felons cannot qualify for the federally funded food stamp program to acquire food in times of financial emergencies. In many cases, felons cannot be employed by the federal government because they cannot pass a security clearance. When applying for employment, felons are mandated to check yes in the felony box. Employers can legally discriminate against hiring felons. Most employers are reluctant to hiring felons. In some states, a felony charge stays on a person’s criminal record for life. Some states will not even grant a barber’s license to a felon. Some states require felons to pay for the time that they spent incarcerated.
Huntington has a rehab program that allows law enforcement officers to issue citations to meth users when caught. The citations are designed to get the meth users to appear at a rehab facility for treatment rather than being incarcerated and charged with a felony. Once a meth addict enters a rehab program, he is allowed seven different opportunities to give the program a chance to work. He is provided with a drug (Vivitrol), that is used as part of the treatment program for drug and alcohol dependence. Vivitrol injection is used to prevent relapse in people who became dependent on opioid medicine and then stopped using it. The alternative drugs have a less addictive affect and are dispensed in a more controlled environment. Rehab facilities provide living quarters for addicts who are unable to provide their own living quarters. Rehab patients are provided with clean needles. Contaminated needles could be infected with HIV/AIDS. An addict who is provided seven different opportunities for rehabilitation has four times as many chances as the “three strikes you’re out” concept. This alternative concept allows a person more time to think about the harm that he is causing to his family and to himself.
The commissioners gained valuable insight on how to plan and coordinate city agencies, to better respond to drug problems that could be growing in the city of Memphis. They also saw that liberty, justice, and human rights can be better protected through applying more innovative and caring leadership.