Sunday, August 10, 2008

Al Smith & Winning Against Addiction

Al Smith, and Winning Against Addiction.

Say you'll be alright come tomorrow, but
tomorrow might not be here for you.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) announced that legendary Kentucky journalist Al Smith will be named a Fellow of the Society at their September convention in Atlanta.

Fellow of the Society is the highest honor SPJ bestows upon a journalist. Its for extraordinary contribution to the profession. Last year, Carl Bernstein (of All The President’s Men fame) was named.

Al is running with the big dogs.

Although Smith, former head of the Appalachian Regional Commission, is no stranger to the national scene, his greatest impact has been on the local and state level.

He understands the creed of helping people, one at a time and taking life one day at a time.

Al’s story is incredible when you realize that he came from extreme depths.

He fought a severe battle with alcohol early in his life. He lost numerous jobs in New Orleans and wound up in Russellville, Ky. There he stopped drinking, bought the paper he was writing for, bought other papers and ascended into greatness.

He made to the top by helping others. His demons were replaced by angels.

People battle different demons. Some more severe than others.

I’ve been fascinated by an Emmy winning television program called Life Or Meth on the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) channel. I didn’t know much about Meth addicts before the series. I do now.

I saw how Meth close it hits to home. They filmed part of the program outside my office. It doesn’t get much closer than that.

It’s been said that Meth addicts are almost impossible to cure.

Madison County Kentucky and neighboring county Clark County are giving it their best shot.

They piloted a concept called Juvenile Drug Court or “drug court” for short. Judge Brandy Brown and Program Supervisor Anna Beth Hardiman are featured in the A&E television program.

It looks like they are having success.

Addiction is something that society has to come to grips with. Throwing addicts in jail is a dumb idea. It doesn’t solve the problem or stop what drove them to addiction to begin with.

On the other hand, I can see the temptation to get addicts off the street, even temporarily. It reminds of when they routinely locked up Otis the drunk on the Andy Griffith show.

Otis was not a threat to another’s safety but many addicts are. People who drive while impaired, or commit violent crimes, are a danger to everyone.

Some countries don’t have addiction problems. They just shoot the addict. We operate a little differently here,

If drug court can make a dent in the addiction problem, I want to know more about it. I’ll use my access to the media to tell others.

How do I know if it works?

Al Smith would tell me, get out and do some digging. See first hand what is going on.

So that is what I am going to do.

I’m going to learn more about what drug court is about. I’ll observe the process and interview the people involved. Then I’ll write about the experience.

I normally don’t do firsthand observation but I want to get to the front lines of the war against addiction and see what is going on.

For every person stumbling through an addiction spiral, there is a potential Al Smith: Someone who can turn their lives around, turn other people’s lives around, and make an incredible impact.

If society is going to progress, we need to find the next generation of Al Smith’s, take them out of the grips of addiction and allow them to be productive.

We need to make some moves. Drug court is one of them. If we don’t combat the rising number of addictions, tomorrow might not be here for America.

Don McNay is Chairman of the Board for McNay Settlement Group in Richmond Kentucky. He is Secretary for the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. You can write to him at or read his award winning column at

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