People throughout region come together to implement plan to address heroin epidemic

The sun shines through the trees in the Daniel Boone National Forest, KY

The sun shines through the trees in the Daniel Boone National Forest, KY

By Amanda Joering
amandaj@thekentuckyproject.com

Heroin has taken over many regions throughout the Commonwealth, in particular Northern Kentucky, where people throughout the area are being affected.  Regardless of location, income, race, or faith, the effects of the heroin epidemic are rippling throughout the region.

The University of Kentucky Center of Drug and Alcohol Research recently estimated that alcohol and other drug abuse costs the Commonwealth more than $6 billion annually.  Combating the current heroin epidemic requires funding that the state, and in particular Northern Kentucky, is lacking.

In an effort to address the growing heroin issue, Northern Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (NKY ASAP) joined with other groups and individuals to form the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Team.

“We are working to present a more coordinated front to our effort and address the issue more comprehensively,” said Bonnie Hedrick, the NKY ASAP coordinator. “It’s obvious that heroin is a big problem in Northern Kentucky. People are dying, and we have to do what we can to stop that.”

One of the response team’s first accomplishments was to influence lawmakers to make Naloxone, a medication that can reverse heroin overdoses, more readily available.  Hedrick said next, the team set its sights on forming a comprehensive plan to address the area’s heroin epidemic.

“There are several aspects to addressing this problem, we can’t focus on just one if we want to really make a difference,” Hedrick said.

In November, after more than a year of work, pulling together data and working with local law enforcement, health care professionals, government officials and more, the team presented the plan – A four-year plan that, fully implemented, will cost approximately $4 million per year.

The plan addresses various aspects of the heroin epidemic, including reducing the supply of heroin, setting up a regional structure for accountability, advocating for needed policy changes, preventing new cases of addiction, expanding the availability of addiction treatment, preventing relapse by improving recovery support over the long term, and reducing overdose deaths and the public health threat and financial burden posed by drug-related infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV.

Hedrick said currently, the team is working with the Northern Kentucky Area Development District to set up a governing structure and action teams to focus on the specific tasks and strategies included in the plan.  Parts of the plan will be implemented using money from a Drug Free Communities Grant that NKY ASAP received in 2011.

Hedrick said the grant funds the website DrugFreeNKY.org, a site that includes the plan, information about the various groups, and ways people can help the effort.

http://drugfreeNKY.org

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