Over the last year, efforts to save lives from heroin addiction and drug overdose in Northern KY have met with both successes and new obstacles. While the KY heroin problem continues to do great harm, recovery organizations and advocates are continuing to make inroads in making the region safer and better equipped to deal with addiction. Last year the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Task Force came together to set goals for tackling the region’s drug epidemic, and in October 2014 they reconvened to review their progress and create an action plan for the next year.
Focus remains on treating drug overdose
Some positive effects of the task force’s advocacy include the creation of 17 free clinics for overdose prevention and the distribution of 129 naloxone overdose emergency kits to Northern KY families. The distribution of these life-saving emergency kits remains a focal point of the task force because of the extremely high rate of drug overdose in the region, from heroin and prescription painkiller drugs. In a clear example of the severity of the Northern KY heroin problem, the provider St. Elizabeth Healthcare recently reported 10 overdose cases in the span of 48 hours in which two of the patients died from drug overdose. While that number may seem high, it’s not really that atypical—the hospital system has also reported more drug overdoses this year than in previous years and an average of about three overdose deaths each week. The task force has also set its sights on the recent expansion in hepatitis C cases (hep C is often transmitted through intravenous drug use). Their efforts will emphasize syringe cleanup and safe handling of sharps. The region has run into a problem stopping the spread of the disease due to Centers for Disease Control funding running out for hepatitis C tests.
Lack of drug rehab options adds to Northern KY heroin problem
Although these harm reduction strategies are hugely important to saving the lives of those with acute addiction problems, there’s still great need for programs in the state that help people get off drugs and stay off them. The problem is, addiction treatment is expensive. The Northern KY task force’s harm reduction and education plans are all they can do with a currently limited amount of funds. Creating new treatment options would require the group to find more sources of funding, which it is attempting to do over the next year.
Other organizations have run into similar financial obstacles while trying to expand Kentucky’s drug rehab options. The addiction treatment company Transitions, Inc. was forced to press pause on plans to open a new drug treatment facility when financial and zoning issues slowed the process to a halt and another buyer took the location, according to this Fox 19 story. The planned facility would have added 200 treatment beds to the Northern KY region, which currently faces huge shortages and long waiting lists. The number of inpatient treatment facility beds stands at only 300 in Northern KY, compared to the city of Louisville’s 1200 and Lexington’s 750 beds. While more inpatient substance abuse treatment centers are needed all across the state, the northern region has a particularly dire need that the task force hopes to rectify with its advocacy and fundraising efforts.[Image by Todd Huffman is licensed under CC BY 2.0]