COVINGTON, Ky. – There's a new plan in place to stabilize the heroin epidemic that has ripped through Northern Kentucky. But it won’t be cheap.
A new study from the group Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact and Response Workgroup outlines a four-year, $16 million plan to reduce the supply and demand of heroin in the region’s eight counties, which has been devastated by the drug in recent years.
The findings were announced publicly at a town hall meeting sponsored by the group Drug Free NKY. The meeting took place at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington.
Photos of once happy kids were shown, kids who tried heroin and died.
9 On Your Side reporter Natasha Williams attended the meeting. A parent described her son's fatal heroin experience as one that just took over him. She said he never wanted to take drugs. Before she knew it, he could not fight it on his own, she told Williams.
The supporters are trying to get the heroin craze sweeping Northern Kentucky under control - a plan to save lives and to save their community.
There was a stakeholder meeting on the same topic earlier Thursday.
“The response documented in the following pages can serve as a blueprint for communities across the Commonwealth to develop their own response,” said Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.
Ingram, Sam Stevens and others members of the Leadership Team behind the study hope the document will “provide life-saving and life-restoring resources for heroin addiction that will reduce its impact in our communities.”
“The heroin epidemic has shaken the Northern Kentucky region to the core. It has transcended beyond a personal or family issue to a challenge of regional significance. Every day, we work to make Northern Kentucky the place of choice for businesses to locate and grow, and for families to live,” wrote Stevens, Adam Caswell and Kevin Donnelly in the report.
The team was comprised of representatives from law enforcement, local governments, mental health and substance use treatment, health care, public health, advocacy groups, business and other community leaders who hope to place a community-wide emphasis on reducing the impact heroin has on the day-to-day life of people in Northern Kentucky.
“To succeed, we need a healthy population and a reliable workforce—two things greatly affected by this epidemic. It is too costly to our citizens, businesses, economy, and region at large to do nothing. It is for these reasons that the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has taken a role in this fight. An issue this large requires regional collaboration to solve. By bringing diverse partners to the table, we have started the conversation and taken the first steps towards a solution. We are now reaching out to the entire community for assistance to ensure Northern Kentucky remains a place of choice."
In Northern Kentucky, more babies are being treated for drug withdrawal, more persons are showing up in the emergency rooms with opioid overdose, and more people, particularly younger people, are dying from overdose than any other parts of the state, according to the report.
Other stats listed in the report show the heroin problem in Northern Kentucky is "unprecedented":
- Statewide, heroin overdose deaths increased by 550 percent between 2011 and 2012. In 2012, heroin overdose cases accounted for almost 20 percent of all Kentucky Medical Examiner drug overdose cases, up from only 3.22 percent in 2011.
- According to the “Trust for America’s Health” report released in October 2013, drug overdose deaths have quadrupled in Kentucky since 1999, higher than all states but West Virginia and New Mexico.
- In Northern Kentucky the number of overdose deaths doubled between 2010 and 2012 from 31 to 61.
- In Northern Kentucky, the number of babies treated for drug withdrawal doubled between 2011 and 2012 (from 730 to over 1,400).
- Rates of acute infections of Hepatitis C in Northern Kentucky doubles the state rate and are 24 times the national rate. Public health officials attribute Northern Kentucky’s high infection rate to the region’s high levels of the intravenous (IV) use of heroin.8
- Admissions for heroin addiction increased from 64 percent in 2009 to 87 percent in 2012 at the region’s only non-medical detoxification unit.
- According to the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, the number of court cases for heroin possession and trafficking increased 500 percent from 2008 to 2012 in Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties (from 257 to 1,339), and is expected to double in 2013. Sixty percent of Kentucky’s heroin prosecutions in 2011 were in these three counties, even though the three counties have just 8.4 percent of the state’s population.
- In 2011, nearly 8 percent of youth in 12th grade in Kentucky reported that they had used heroin 1 or more times—three times the U.S. rate. (CDC YRBS)
- The number of overdose cases at Saint Elizabeth hospitals increased by 77.4 percent in 2012 and, as of August 2013, the number of heroin overdose cases almost doubled the 2012 rate (from 252 in 2011, to 447 in 2012, and through August 2013, the number was 385).
Part of the problem stems from a lack of resources in the region.
Of the Commonwealth’s 14 regions, Northern Kentucky receives the lowest per capita allocation of federal and state funds for treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders, according to the report.
However, an adequate investment in preventing, treating, reducing harm and promoting recovery will produce considerable savings in areas such as health care, business and legal/justice.
This can prove to be a major problem, not just for those using the drug, but members of the community overall, according to Steve Arlinghaus, Kenton County Judge Executive.
“If drug abuse treatment is not received, inmates are eventually released without help for their addiction and often go right back into criminal activity, until they are caught and locked up again. This cycle is very costly since we house inmates at the Kenton County Detention Center at a cost of $23,000 per person, per year. The detention center has become a revolving door for many of these folks, and we need to break that cycle,” Arlinghaus said.
Kenton County built a new detention center with the capacity to hold approximately 610 inmates in 2010. Jailer Terry Carl is quoted in the report as saying he believes 80 percent or more of Kenton County inmates are locked up for drug-related offenses. The percentage is similar in Campbell County.
The Boone County estimate is a bit lower, according to the report.
“Drug problems in Northern Kentucky can’t be solved in Washington, D.C., or Frankfort, Kentucky. Even though state and federal governments have a role to play, real change occurs when those closest to the problem take it upon themselves to seek out and implement strategies that address their individual community’s specific needs,” according to Ingram.
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