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Arlinghaus: NKY Not Receiving Fair Share in Fight Against Heroin

This commentary is by Kenton County Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus and originally appeared in What's Happening in Kenton County, Fall/Winter 2013.

It is very disturbing that substance abuse is rampant within our community. Especially troubling is that heroin has become the drug of choice, and has reached an epidemic level not only here in Kenton County, but in Boone and Campbell Counties as well. Heroin is extremely dangerous and very easy to become addicted to. Almost everyone knows someone who has a friend or family member who has been touched by the disease. The financial impact of substance abuse is staggering, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky has severely deprived our region of adequate funds to help combat this issue.

Sadly, Northern Kentucky ranks dead last out of the 14 regions that receive State Contract dollars for behavioral health and substance abuse, per capita. This pool of funds unfortunately goes through our friends in Frankfort to decide how to divvy up.

Why is this so important? If the formula used for distribution of funds was equally applied, Northern Kentucky would receive at least two million more dollars than we do currently. If we received our fair share, we could have additional "residential treatment beds" available in Northern Kentucky for cases involving substance abuse! These types of beds are what many believe to be the most successful method in treating alcohol and/or substance abuse cases.

Jefferson County (Louisville pop. 741,000) for example, receives enough funds to support close to 1,000 residential treatment beds, while Fayette County (Lexington pop. 296,000) supports nearly 500. Northern Kentucky, the second largest region in the Commonwealth with a population of 369,000, has a mere 199 such beds. 

In 2010, Kenton County built a new detention center with the capacity to hold approximately 610 inmates. Jailer Terry Carl estimates that 80% or more of Kenton County inmates are locked up for drug-related offenses. This percentage is also true for Campbell County, while Boone County estimates are a bit less.

Most of these inmates are facing charges such as common theft, drug dealing, petty crime, possession of drug paraphernalia, and so on. The root of the problem is that most of these individuals need help with substance abuse treatment. Now granted, drug dealers and those who have committed serious crimes need to stay locked up in jail. However, a good number have an excellent chance of turning their lives around with proper treatment to become productive members of our community and workforce, as well as taxpaying citizens.

When an individual gets arrested and is locked up for petty theft (for example) to help with their drug addiction, the first 9+ days are strictly spent going through detoxification. Even though we offer some medical services, deputies at the detention center are the ones on the front line dealing with inmates as they go through withdrawal. Many inmates will stay locked up, waiting for a residential treatment bed to become available, which can take several months. Sometimes, we are able to send individuals to a treatment facility elsewhere in Kentucky.

If drug abuse treatment is not received, inmates are eventually released without help for their addiction and often go right back into criminal activity, until they are caught and locked up again. This is where it becomes more challenging as we house inmates at the Kenton County Detention Center at a cost of $23,000 per person, per year. The detention center has become a revolving door for many of these folks, and we need to break that cycle.

Mac McArthur is the Director of Transitions, one of the few agencies that offers a Residential Treatment Center. He states that when someone enters their program they need to stay for about nine months to be successfully treated, at a cost of $13,500. As you can see, it is less expensive treating these folks compared to housing them in a detention center. Transitions boasts a 70%+ success rate in treating individuals with substance abuse problems.

We have some very good legislators in Northern Kentucky, and we will rely heavily on their leadership in Frankfort this next session to convince other state legislators that we need to receive a fair share of support from our tax dollars being sent to Frankfort. Northern Kentucky needs to be viewed as equals in the Commonwealth. With our fair share, we have a reasonable chance to help many people with much needed substance abuse treatment, resulting in reduced crime and less inmates in the Kenton County Detention Center.

 -Kenton Co. Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus​, pictured