Overdoses continue to harm Ky., but local efforts helping

By KATHY MILES

Boyle County ASAP

Drug overdose deaths continue to be a major topic of concern in current health care discussions. No  one can look at Kentucky’s 2016 statistic of over 1,400 deaths due to drug overdoses and not have some reaction. The effects on families and friends are tremendous and unending. The law enforcement and health care system costs are undeniable. Elected officials struggle to allocate funding for needed emergency services. And almost everyone is interested in what needs to happen to reverse the current trend.  

In the past few years, most of us have had our stereotypes of who overdoses on drugs shattered.  People who overdose have often begun their drug usage with a legal prescription for a painkiller. They may have moved on to injecting heroin or they may have continued with pills. They may be employed and their drug usage is not known or even guessed by their employer. They may have grown up in a healthy, intact family. They may be our neighbor, our good friend, our fellow church member, or our children.  

According to a new report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people 50 and over are the new age group where misuse of opioids is on the rise.  So your parents or grandparents can actually be at high risk for overdoses, even if they never buy drugs on the street. That fact certainly also changes some of our old beliefs about people with addictions.

Indicators of those who are at high risk to die from drug overdoses include the following:

• using or taking drugs (including opioid prescriptions) with no other people around;

• mixing opioids with alcohol and/or other drugs;

• recently having been in a detox or treatment facility, incarcerated, or having had a recent illness — all of which can result in a significant loss of tolerance; and

• not knowing what is mixed in the drug being taken — an increasingly common problem with street drugs.  

All of these risk factors point to the need for naloxone (brand name Narcan), to be readily available.  Naloxone is a drug that temporarily reverses the effects of an opiate overdose until further treatment can be given at an emergency room.  

SAMHSA has recommended specific community strategies to address the opioid crisis and the accompanying overdose deaths. Those strategies include improved education about treatment and access to that treatment, and ensuring the widespread availability and distribution of Naloxone.   

In the past two years, Boyle County ASAP has hosted overdose response trainings and distributed naloxone to a wide variety of community groups. These groups include faith leaders; attendees at a substance abuse resource fair; the local Medical Reserve Corps; and the general public. Training events will continue to be held throughout the community in coming months.

On Sept. 7, members of the Danville Police Department and the Boyle County Sheriff’s Department will receive training in the use of naloxone. Along with the continuing work of our local EMS, our law enforcement’s commitment to saving lives is consistent with “best practice” research and expert recommendations.

Boyle County ASAP, F.I.G.H.T. and Hope Network, are currently planning a local event, as part of International Overdose Awareness Day events across the world. On Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. at St. James AME Church, community members will come together to acknowledge the grief of losing friends and family members to overdoses in the past year, to hear stories of those who have been brought back to life by naloxone and their move into recovery afterward, and to pledge to work together to make our community healthier and safer. Recovery Radio, Isaiah House, and Stith Funeral Home will join in being cosponsors.  

Like most Kentuckians, Gov. Matt Bevin is very concerned about our state’s loss of life to drug overdoses. He has authorized the development of a statewide initiative to lower the overdose death rate. The website, www.dontletthemdie.com, includes information about recognizing an overdose, how to administer naloxone, treatment resources and educational videos.

The message from the governor’s office is strong: All communities across the state must work together to implement the best researched strategies to save lives. A life saved is potential for recovery, productivity, and community service.  

Note: If you are with someone you suspect is overdosing, call 911. For 24-hour mental-health and substance-abuse crisis assistance, call Bluegrass.org at (800) 928-8000.

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.