Last week, two major headlines landed on Kentucky newspapers and their contrast couldn't have been more stark. One story announced that Kentucky's tourism industry had a fantastic year in 2016 with a $14.5 billion impact that generated more than $1.5 billion in tax revenue.
The other headline wasn't as pleasant. It involved the seizure of $1.5 million in heroin in a small Western Kentucky county. Thirty-three pounds of the illicit drug was seized in a routine truck inspection in Lyon County. The out-of-state traffickers were on a run to feed Kentucky's crave for the drug responsible for 28 percent of all overdose deaths in 2015.
Two seemingly different stories at the outset, yet they share a common point of intersection. Which is, what do people do for leisure and enjoyment, and are there any boundaries?
The pursuit of immediate gratification is in high demand. But heroin is no vacation. The long-term effects of the addictive drug on users are disastrous and the cost is too high for society to bear even as some call for decriminalization and an end to the "war on drugs."
The criminalization of hard drugs like heroin is a societal guardrail we've collectively put up and have said, "nope, too dangerous, not acceptable, not on our watch." Yet the guardrail has many holes and the safety cables broken through evidenced by the 2015 Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy report. It tallied an all-time high 1248 drug overdose deaths in the Bluegrass and the numbers don't appear to be decreasing.
In 2015, the General Assembly allocated $24 million for drug addiction treatment. It made naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose, more widely available to emergency first responders. In fact, it can now be purchased over the counter. This past session the legislature cracked down on traffickers of fentanyl with maximum 10-year prison sentences. And they limited opioid prescriptions to a three day supply. Yet, despite legislative action, trafficking continues, addictions increase, the death toll climbs. The beat goes on.
We've seen wave after wave of drug fads. In my home region of Western Kentucky, meth production was so bad a decade ago that farmers couldn't leave their nitrous ammonia tanks in the fields because they'd be stolen. They're just beginning to return.
After a crackdown on meth labs and restricting key ingredients, prescription pills emerged. Then the legislature cracked down on pill mills in 2012. Now we're dealing with cheap and widely available opiates. Again, another crackdown.
Controlling Kentucky's drug epidemic is like squeezing a balloon. The law may have a grip on one dangerous drug while a bulge in the form of another drug emerges elsewhere. The drug epidemic will continue to ravage lives until the air is let out of the balloon. In other words, deep heart and soul issues must be addressed and this is something the state is powerless to fix.
Missing from the discussion are churches and religious institutions that speak to our spirits and articulate a vision for the true, the beautiful and the good. Churches that draw moral boundaries that help congregants and the community at large distinguish between recreational drug use and soul-nurturing forms of recreation.
The idea of ethical limits and recreational boundaries are eschewed in an age where morality takes a back seat to hyper-autonomy but when a troubled soul goes off the rails, churches are naturally inclined to minister to immediate needs as well as past wounds that likely led to addiction in the first place. After all, central to the faith is a God who enters the pain of the broken and the Savior's scarred hands are ample evidence He understands suffering.