Louisville’s WFPL News recently produced a public forum on issues related to the Kentucky heroin epidemic. Experts from various arenas of substance abuse treatment briefly presented on the current status of heroin treatment and incarceration in Kentucky. This was followed by a question-and-answer session in which the experts fielded concerns from addiction treatment professionals and former drug users from the audience. Listen the forum below, and read our summary of the presentations and discussions.
The first to talk in the forum were journalists for WFPL who have been covering the recent state legislation on heroin. They provided an overview of the finalized Kentucky heroin bill and discussed the new syringe exchange programs, in Louisville, Lexington, and Northern KY, that the recent legislation only now allows.
The alarming rise of Kentucky heroin use
Karyn Hascal, president of The Healing Place, discussed the alarming rate at which Kentucky heroin use has spiked in the last few years. Three years ago, Hascal said, people reporting heroin as their primary drug made up five percent of their detox patients. Now, that figure has jumped to 95 percent. Also discussed was the changing demographics of the heroin user. “Our fastest growing population is 18-to-25-year-old heroin addicts,” Hascal said.
Similar rates of heroin use were reported by Jennifer Hancock, president of Volunteers of America-Kentucky (VOAKY), a non-profit organization that also does work in addiction treatment, particularly for women drug users who are pregnant or parents. According to Hancock, half of the users treated by VOAKY say heroin is their primary drug, and 70 percent of pregnant or parenting women in their program are heroin users, many of whom use by injecting.
Detox and heroin treatment in KY jails
The remaining expert who presented information to the forum was Mark Bolton, director of Louisville Metro Corrections. Bolton insisted that, while many people might want addiction to be treated as a public health issue instead of a criminal justice issue, it simply is an issue for jails when users and addicts are incarcerated. Bolton discussed how Louisville jails have assimilated detox and substance abuse treatment programs within their facilities.
According to Bolton’s testimony, the majority of users are not brought in on serious drug charges, but low-level warrants. These inmates are quickly released, not around long enough to be fully detoxed within the jail system. Bolton felt that that issue has not been adequately addressed in conversations about treatment and jail.
Finally, the forum was opened to questions from the audience, who provided passionate remarks on the state of the Kentucky treatment landscape. The debate will surely continue as addiction workers in the state attempt to improve the chances that a heroin user finds treatment solutions before it’s too late. Stepworks hopes to be a major participant in Kentucky’s quest for better treatment, with the recent opening of our new residential treatment center in London, KY.