FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- Her son had only been dead for a few hours when, together with family and friends, Holly Specht decided to start an awareness group called NKY Hates Heroin.
Nicholas’ accidental overdose at the family’s Fort Thomas home in 2013 punctuated a long, heartbreaking journey for the Specht family, which struggled for years to help Nicholas find adequate treatment for his addiction. They researched endlessly online and drove Nicholas all over the Tristate, but at that time, resources were limited to combat what has become a full-blown national epidemic.
Their journey might have ended with Nicholas’s death had the Spechts chosen to retreat permanently into grief and despair. Instead, they started an organization that would ultimately change the scope of addiction services in Northern Kentucky.
To date, NKY Hates Heroin has raised tens of thousands in donations, hosted awareness events, distributed more than 21,000 copies of its emergency informational handbook and worked to support Casey’s Law, Kentucky legislation passed in 2004 that allows the parents, relatives or friends of an addicted person to lawfully intervene and request involuntary, court-ordered treatment.
The group also works with civic leaders and healthcare providers in the region to distribute kits containing naloxone -- more commonly known as Narcan -- that when administered nasally to an opiate overdose victim can have immediate life-saving effects.
"Part of my job is to educate clueless, frustrating and frankly stupid people who are unwilling to understand heroin addiction," said Specht, speaking recently to a group of approximately 25 female inmates at the Kenton County Detention Center in Covington, many of whom are heroin users serving time for drug-related offenses. "I won’t pretend to understand what you are going through, but I do understand something I hope none of you ever will, and that’s losing a child."
Specht was joined on the speaking panel by fellow parent Tina Garera, whose son has struggled with heroin addiction for the last decade.
"I grieve the loss of a son who still walks this earth,” said Garera.
The women were invited to speak as part of an addiction-treatment program the Kenton County Detention Center implemented in September 2015. In exchange for completing the voluntary program, offenders are eligible to have 90 days removed from their sentence.
"Most want to get clean," said Specht. "In that way, it’s a double incentive."
Despite its no-nonsense name, the group's message is one of love. “If there’s anything you need, I’m here for you," Specht told the incarcerated women. "If your family tells you that you’re the one with the problem, they’re wrong. Because addiction is everyone’s problem."
Specht’s words had a visible effect on many of those gathered, and some spoke up during a Q&A session afterward. “I’m in here because of Casey’s Law,” one inmate said. “I used to be really angry with my mom for that, but now I tell her all the time I think she prayed me in here."
William Pfefferman, assistant director of the detention center’s substance abuse program, facilitated the discussion. Himself a recovering drug user, Pfefferman expressed the importance of dismantling stigmas in order to reach people with addictions on a personal level.
"I’ve been arrested five times. I was actually still on parole when I started here. There were a lot of people who didn’t want me here," said Pfefferman. Then he laughed, "The (corrections officers) used to call me ‘convict,’ but now they just call me ‘sir.'"
NKY Hates Heroin uses funds raised to support a number of local addiction-treatment organizations, including Transitions Inc., Healthy Newborn House, Diocesan Catholic Children’s Home, Droege House and Brighton Recovery Center for Women.
“We’re never going to stop being loud,” said Specht. “We’ll never stop fighting to make sure other families don’t have to go through what we went through.”
NKY Hates Heroin hosts events to promote awareness and raise funds for the fight. One event is a holiday shopping bazaar in Fort Thomas on Dec. 3. Visit the group’s Facebook page to submit donations and learn about other upcoming events.