BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For the last several months, Thomas has had an active role in helping Baton Rouge city leaders create a plan to fight opioid abuse. He is currently a user.
"We've been there," he said. "We understand what we need. l do my part to try to give some voice and light to the entire situation."
Capital Area Human Services (CAHS) formed the Behavioral Health Collaborative. It's a group made up of organizations focused on fighting opioid addiction. A new plan was launched for opioid prevention and treatment Thursday morning at CAHS headquarters. To make sure they're focused on the right issues, users are part of the conversation.
"People who use drugs are the experts in drug use," said Logan Kinamore, founder and executive director of No Overdose Baton Rouge. "They know best what services they need, what services they lack."
CAHS said right now Louisiana is one of eight states that has more opioid prescriptions than it has residents.
"Many I've spoken to have talked about how exhausted they are," said Jan Kasofsky, Ph.D., executive director of CAHS. "They are concerned about getting a disease or overdosing."
Leaders said this new plan will give dignity to users, building a relationship through wraparound services.
"It's not about changing people's behavior, but meeting them where they're at and providing the tools to be safe and healthy. If and when they decide for themselves they want to make a change, we are there to help them every step of the way," Kinamore explained.
Thomas said, for addicts, the hardest part is finally deciding they need help but lacking access to treatment facilities or someone they can trust.
"A lot of places exist like that, but a lot of places have standing waiting lists and standing practices where you can't just walk in off the street without a dollar in their pocket," he added.
Another suggestion health professionals said could decrease the number of diseases spread, expanding the syringe access program. Thomas said right now, users would rather use a dirty syringe than go through the pain of detox.
"They're on a 12-hour ticking time bomb. They'll go ahead and make that decision to give themselves a sickness, consciously aware of what they're doing to themselves because the consequences of that in 10 to 20 years is far less than the consequences of their next 12 hours if they don't receive that fix," he explained.
Thomas added that some are in control of their habits while "some aren't and the problem is that the ones that aren't feel pressured into doing things that aren't very unsafe and very unclean."
Members of the group said they understand there is a disconnect between addicts and the treatment community, so they want to break barriers and reduce harm by giving users what they need, which could lead to recovery.
"I think one of the things we need to address is how our health care providers view people who are using drugs or abusing drugs. What can we do to help them feel like they'll be respected human beings?" Kasofsky asked.