Who has the solution to tackle Madison County’s rampant drug epidemic? It’s a question several local officials hope will be answered after a pre-bid conference for the proposed Madison County Healing Center. The event was hosted by Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor last Monday.
The purpose of the meeting was to invite bids to develop a new kind of public/private partnership that will focus on treating the root causes of substance addiction. The call for bids drew approximately 20 prospective vendors, according to reports.
Berea City Council members Bruce Fraley and Jim Davis attended the meeting, after which Fraley expressed his belief that it is time for new ideas for dealing with the community’s drug problem. With drug-related crimes contributing to overcrowding at the Madison County Detention Center, along with projections that the county would otherwise have to build a $50 million, 800-bed facility to accommodate a growing inmate population, Fraley said county officials opted for a different course.
“I think what they came away with is that what we’ve been doing in the past hasn’t worked,” Fraley said. “I don’t think we can incarcerate our way out of this epidemic, and we have to look at new ways to deal with our drug problem. The public is demanding it, and this may be a more economical way to address the problem.”
At the meeting, Deputy Judge/Executive Colleen Chaney stated that managing the issue of drug abuse is a matter of saving tax dollars but also of providing effective treatment and healing. With that in mind, the county is eying a treatment facility that could house approximately 300 clients, in which case many drug offenders who qualify would not be the detention center.
Additionally, the center would feature a vocational component to teach life skills, as well as on-site job training to prepare offenders for a life after drug addiction. Under the current plan, the county would manage construction and security for the facility, which may also serve as office space for some county departments in the future. Meanwhile, a private partner would administer treatment and training programs featured at the healing center. Bids for proposals are due on July 7.
Noting that last week’s meeting was standing-room only, Fraley said there seems to be widespread enthusiasm and interest in trying new strategies. “I do think there is a broad base of support for the concept at all levels, and I think there’s a certain degree of excitement and optimism about the fact that this is something that might help us to be successful in treating this deadly disease,” Fraley said.
However, Fraley said officials first have to wait and see if a plausible plan emerges from the bidding process. Said Fraley: “This is something that could be groundbreaking, but we need to look at the details and the costs. We need to make sure this is workable, and I think this idea may have great potential to be workable.”
Berea City Councilman Jim Davis expressed support for exploring a new approach as well, though he, too, was cautious about its long-term prospects. “I’m willing to look at it to see what they’re proposing. We’ve got to do something, and I’m open to listening to anybody,” Davis said.
Davis also lamented the fact that the drug epidemic has reached a point that the public is looking to the government to solve the problem. He added that if any effort is to succeed, citizens must fully invest in the effort to battle drug abuse, beginning with themselves. “I don’t know what the answer is, but I do think we depend too much on government to do things for us,” Davis said. “It’s time for people to step up to the plate and stand up for themselves. People need to take responsibility for their actions.”
The winning bid, if any, is expected to be revealed this fall, officials said.