Addiction experts expect a meth epidemic in northern Kentucky soon

Posted at 6:39 PM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 20:10:42-04

FLORENCE, Ky. — Communities along the Ohio River could have only a few years to brace for a methamphetamine epidemic, Mount Healthy police Chief Vince DeMasi said Wednesday. Addiction recovery expert Snezana Tenhundfeld disagreed: They’ve got months.

“Absolutely that soon,” she said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Tenhundfeld, program director for the Florence-based Brighton Recovery Center for Women, said she has seen a sharp rise in the number of meth addiction cases at her facility since the start of 2019.

"At one point a couple of months ago, 80% of our intakes were individuals struggling with meth addiction," said Tenhundfeld. “That got us worried because we were still trying to concentrate on the heroin epidemic, especially with fentanyl being so dangerous and the effects that was having on the community. … Then we were thrown into the loop of, ‘You know what? Something else might be going on.’”

Other Brighton Center officials said most meth users they treat started out using other substances — usually opioids — and later switched to meth, which is less expensive, more available and easier to produce.

“They tried using meth as a form of detox from heroin, stepping down, trying to help with withdrawal symptoms,” according to Tenhundfeld. “Unfortunately, that method turned into an addiction itself.”

Brighton Center patient Erica Owens never used heroin, she said, but she’s witnessed the rise of meth in her Northern Kentucky community. She started using it herself to lose weight and cope with grief after her father’s death, and it seemed to work at first.

Then, she said, it changed her. She was arrested; she hurt people she loved; she felt angry and hurt and consumed with self-hatred.

“It’s a very disguised drug,” she said Wednesday, three months into her stay at Brighton. “It makes you think everything is better, and it all falls apart majorly.”

Kentucky will see meth spread before Ohio does, Tenhundfeld predicted.

When it does arrive on the other side of the river, however, it will land in communities already struggling with more drug crises than police can handle. Mount Healthy is one of them, according to DeMasi.

“(Overdose victims) require a lot of follow-up and coordination that’s beyond the capacity of a 10-member police department,” he said, adding later: “In my 44 years of experience, I can tell you that we’re not even treading water. We can’t even respond to the need that’s out there right now.”