Fentanyl crisis warrants government intervention | Livingston

The frontlines of drug abuse and homelessness are humbling.

We are failing to succeed with our wars on drugs and finding solutions to homelessness — because we are failing to see that we are failing.

Most of us want solutions to be simple. Make it all go away so we can get on with being indifferent.

Not going to happen. Our imagination is currently overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem, the nature of people, their addiction or shelter crisis, ill-defined laws, and competing ideologies that prevent logical discussions from evolving into solutions. We are stuck in a societal abstraction beyond comprehension and when it has to be dealt with at the community level. It often exceeds the resources and political will available.

The frontlines of drug abuse and homelessness are humbling. We know we can’t invade Mexico and undo that nation’s historic corruption and directly take on their drug dealing cartels. We have to be a diplomatic neighbor. China, a major provider of precursor chemicals for making fentanyl may have made a “wink and nod” agreement with our government to reduce exports. Money and users make a market so the chemicals are likely to continue arriving in Mexico for illicit drug production and distribution.

We are a willing market for the world’s drug lords. In my lifetime there has been no discernible impact on the flow or capability of dealers finding users needing a moment’s peace with a chemical providing a tragic life-altering high. If you are homeless, that high may be what gets you through the night. But, if you are a child living in an addicted household or couch surfing for shelter because your caregivers are addicted, you are trapped in a world with no easy way out except to repeat the lifestyle you are living.

The majority of us are fortunate to not be afflicted with drug addiction or living with shelter insecurity. We are on the outside looking at the problem through the prism of privilege.

We may choose to look down on those who have made addictive choices. We do not care that it is a disease or mental health issue. We just know in our hearts that they made bad choices. However, our sense of superiority often makes us wrong.

What none of us should be looking down upon are the children trapped in opioid-affected families who also may be dealing with shelter stress issues. They need a lifeline out of a nightmare of choices — made by people responsible for their care — and hopefully, with proper intervention, the children and young adults can be extricated and provided resources and guidance to not repeat the choices made by their family of influencers. One very tough ask, but how else can the cycle be broken?

Several state senators and legislators are crafting a legal path in the form of Senate Bill 6109 to help clarify conditions for legal intervention for children trapped in situations of abuse or neglect resulting from high-potency synthetic opioids. The bill establishes a basis for removal from a parent by court order, law enforcement, or a hospital if a determination of imminent physical harm may be present.

None of us like to hear that the government is making a choice to intervene in someone’s parental or family rights – but there are times and conditions that warrant that level of intervention. The level of concern can be seen in rising death totals. King County experienced 1060 fentanyl deaths in 2023. This was a 50 percent increase of 2022.

At a cost of $3 to $5 a pill, fentanyl is cheap, highly addictive, deadly, devastating families, and present in our schools. The state’s superintendent of schools office has issued a guidance document for the use of Naloxone (Narcan) in schools in the event of an opioid overdose.

We know we have a problem and keeping children as safe as possible is essential while we continue addressing the supply chains and prosecute all involved in the illicit drug trade. It appears that the drug cartels supported by quasi-national interests that allow their presence are succeeding at exploiting America’s free market philosophy. Much of our crime and homelessness can be attributed to the illicit drug trade.

The Sackler family and Purdue Pharma legally exploited our nation for years with oxycontin and its derivatives. Got pain — take a pill. They helped create the current addictive path. But this is not a new problem. America faced a major opioid issue in the nineteenth century when opium was the drug of choice and proved to be disruptive to families and society.

Will increased family interventions work to get children out of harm’s way? If the bill becomes law, results will depend on how proactive the courts, law enforcement, and hospitals are with intervention initiation, and the Department of Children and Families (DCYF) embracing an increased role in managing the process.

The bill requires the training of law enforcement officers, hospital personnel, family and juvenile court officers, first responders, and DCYF child welfare workers. While it strengthens the ability to intercede, effectiveness ultimately is reliant on resources, community, and political will to accept greater responsibility for what is potentially a greater crisis within a crisis — harm to children.

The authority being asked for within the bill will potentially change the lives of some of our state’s most vulnerable — our children. When parents and family prove themselves to be incapable of caring for themselves and continue modeling harmful behavior, the response of government shifts to protection and ultimately the facilitator of a better outcome for the child in the present, and possibly in the long run — the family itself.

There are no easy solutions to homelessness, illicit drug use, and child interventions. Getting to this point is a recognition of failure at multiple levels. The bill seeks to break the cycle of present and future harm and address problems where they are as a way of shaping a better path for the harmed and potentially a better quality of life as a result.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com