Hearings on opioid addiction brings lawmakers, concerned citizens together

House committee told addiction needs to be treated as a disease

By Geri Gibbons - ggibbons@timesleader.com


House committee told addiction needs to be treated as a disease

By Geri Gibbons



PRINGLE — Jim McMonagle had a simple message for the state House Majority Policy Committee.

Testifying at the committee’s hearing on drug addiction, McMonagle said there is only one way to deal with the problem — one addict at a time, one day at a time, one problem solved at a time.

McMonagle, who sits on Luzerne County’s Drug Treatment Court as an assistant district attorney, on Thursday said he didn’t always have a full understanding of that concept.

In 2007 when he was first assigned to the drug court, he came to the position with the traditional mindset of a prosecutor, believing that if someone “did the crime, they should do the time.”

After his training and experience with assisting addicts who had been charged with a crime, he said he came to fully understand that addiction is a disease and if you treat it and support those who are afflicted with it, you are likely to have much better outcomes.

He is now the president of the Pennsylvania Association of Drug Court Professionals.

The drug court, he said, also improves the bottom line.

“First, more fines, restitution and costs are usually received from people in these programs because of the intense supervision and graduation requirements,” he said. “Second, counties can reduce prison costs. Third, a graduate has a job, which positively impacts government finances.”

The program means government expenses go down and revenue goes up, he concluded.

“It’s a win-win for the community,” he said.

“We cannot arrest our way out of a drug problem,” Dallas Township Police Chief Robert Jolley said.

Jolley said he has personally witnessed the loss of life to a drug overdose and the effect on the family. He said addiction drives up to 80 percent of crime and needs to be vigorously addressed.

State Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston, agreed.

Recently he spent time at a suboxone clinic and was impressed with the efforts of the workers and the resolve of the clients.

Kaufer said, although he wanted to do more research on the drug, he believed that it could be a valuable tool in addressing the opioid problem.

Kaufer, a member of the policy committee, said he recognizes the effects of addiction.

“We are losing the next generation,” he said.

Legislation, Kaufer said, is part of the solution.

He is co-chairing the Pennsylvania Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education Caucus with state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Pittsburgh.

Another part of the solution, Kaufer said, is the willingness to respond to the concerns of constituents affected by the disease.

Sharon Kempa, of Luzerne, presented testimony about her son, Kyle. Kyle she said has been using drugs, mostly opioids, since eighth grade.

Kempa said when she didn’t know where else to turn, she went to Kaufer’s office.

“They helped Kyle get into treatment,” she said. “They were great.”

Unfortunately, Kempa said she believes her son was again using drugs after several months of being clean.

Still, she hasn’t given up hope, believing that it often takes several attempts at rehabilitation before an addict experiences long-term success.

“If there is one message that I can leave you with, it is that Kyle is a person,” she said. “He is a son, a brother, a father.”

Reach Geri Gibbons at 570-991-6117 or on Twitter @TLGGibbons

Reach Geri Gibbons at 570-991-6117 or on Twitter @TLGGibbons

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