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Frustration, hope seen in latest NKY heroin data

Posted at 8:27 PM, Oct 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-19 20:27:01-04

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Jim Thaxton sees a light at the end of the tunnel. He just hopes it isn't a freight train.

As the coordinator of the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Team, Thaxton has vowed to keep fighting the heroin epidemic that has struck seemingly every demographic in the Tri-State.

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For two years, the team has worked to help people addicted to heroin; at times, it can seem like a losing battle.

"Heroin is at least 80 percent in our programs of the street drug that is being bought," John Cole, director of Kenton County's Ten/Ten Drug and Alcohol Education Program.

Statistics released Monday give some perspective to the problem: St. Elizabeth Healthcare has treated 846 opioid overdoses in its emergency rooms in Covington, Fort Thomas, Edgewood, Florence and Grant County so far this year; that compares with 745 for all of 2014 and 545 heroin overdoses in 2013.

St. Elizabeth's neonatal intensive-care unit has treated 93 babies born addicted to heroin so far this year, a 50 percent increase from three years ago.

Another stat that worries task force members: Ten percent of Northern Kentucky 12th-graders reported they perceive no harm in using heroin.

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"The numbers I'm holding in my hand -- they keep going up, and part of our goal is to cap them, plateau them, and then start bringing them back down," Thaxton said.

In 2014, Campbell, Kenton and Boone counties ranked in the top six counties across the commonwealth for total overdose deaths per capita, placing third, fourth and fifth respectively. In overdoses involving heroin, Kenton County ranked third, Campbell fourth and Boone fifth.

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The Northern Kentucky task force has pushed for legislative changes at both the local and federal level to fight the heroin epidemic, focusing now on four bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and nine bills in the U.S. Senate, as well as a bill in the Kentucky Senate.

It's also focused on prevention, treatment and support. Thaxton said he believes if the community continues to come together, the numbers eventually will change for the better.

"Recovery is possible, and heroin, opiate addiction is the disease of the brain. Like any other chronic disease, it can be addressed medically and with counseling," Thaxton said.

RESOURCES: Where you can get help