February brought the commencement of Kentucky’s current legislative session. With it came high expectations for state officials to reduce drug overdose fueled by a surge in fentanyl. Fentanyl accounted for 70% of fatal overdoses in 2021. Kentucky’s Justice Department has yet to release its drug overdose report for 2022.
However, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 2,000 Kentuckians died of confirmed drug overdoses in 2022. The Kentucky population’s overdose rate for 2022 was almost 50 per 100,000 people. That was Kentucky’s second year losing over 2,000 people to fatal overdose; most of which was attributed to fentanyl in 2021.
Kentucky’s Opioid Intervention and Harm Reduction Efforts
In 2022, Kentucky lawmakers were poised to make opioid intervention and harm reduction a priority. The previous legislative session suggested harm reduction might play a large role in decreasing overdose deaths. For instance, lawmakers introduced but have yet to grapple with a bill that proposes decriminalizing certain drugs. It would also expand harm reduction services. The proposal attempts to allocate a piece of a $32 million opioid settlement.
Additionally, Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office established the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Committee (KOAAC). KOAAC’s inaugural hearing convened on July 12, 2022 at the Capital Complex in Frankfort, Ky. The body has met at least once a month since.
How Kentucky Students are Impacted by Addiction, Overdose
While addressing KOAAC on Jan. 10, 2023, Dr. Amon Couch, who serves as associate vice president of Partners for Rural Impact (PRI), emphasized how dire the straits are for families in Appalachian Kentucky are right now due to addiction. Couch and other PRI colleagues stressed the urgency of the opioid epidemic.
“As a former, retired superintendent, teacher and principal and as someone who hears from school staff across Eastern Kentucky every single day — I can assure you nothing has had a bigger impact on our schools negatively than the opioid crisis,” Couch told the committee. “I talked to a high school guidance counselor last week. She said about 80% of her day is spent dealing with kids and supporting kids whose families are going through traumatic events, namely opioid addiction.”
It’s not a problem unique to Kentucky either. Millions of kids nationwide live with parents who sustain substance use disorders. Organizations like the Eluna Network exist solely to support children and families struggling with this same issue.
Activist Organizations Hit the Ground Running
The Addiction Policy Advocacy Council (APAC) hosted its first ever Recovery Advocacy Day on Feb. 8, 2023. APAC is the legislative arm of a nonprofit called People Advocating Recovery. The event was held at the Rotunda in Frankfort, Ky. The grassroots group, People Advocating Recovery, described it as an opportunity to shift the conversation and celebrate people in long-term recovery.
Voices of Community Activists and Leaders-Kentucky (VOCAL-KY) also helped organize and co-hosted a Harm Reduction Symposium on Feb. 13 and 14. They pulled the event together in collaboration with the National Harm Reduction Coalition. They convened to develop a comprehensive “Menu of Services,” as they called it, for statewide initiatives to increase the accessibility of harm reduction resources for Kentuckians. The event was held from morning to evening on both days at First Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church.
On that second day of the Harm Reduction Symposium, the Kentucky chapter of the national organization, Voting Rights Campaign, held another event. They gathered at the capitol in Frankfort on Valentine’s Day to advocate for the restoration of felons’ voting rights. Felons represent some 200,000 living Kentuckians currently not allowed to vote.
Other organizations, such as the Fairness Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), also put together lobbying rallies this month. Fairness Rally & Lobby Day was slated for Feb. 15. The ACLU’s “Your Voice, Your Power” Mini Lobby Day was scheduled for Feb. 23.
Help For Opioid Addiction, Overdose Prevention
If you or someone you know are among the many Kentuckians struggling with substance use disorder, call an addiction specialist at 502.309.2675. Find the nearest addiction treatment program by talking to an addiction specialist on the phone or here. You can also view a list of the top 10 addiction treatment facilities in the Louisville area here.
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