How Boyle County is addressing substance abuse: Part 1

Published 10:32 am Tuesday, July 11, 2023


Writer’s note: This is the first article in a series that takes a deeper look at how Boyle County is addressing substance abuse, what has been successful and what else is needed.

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Addressing problems like substance abuse takes a whole community of dedicated people working together, and Boyle County was recently certified as one such community.

In May, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that Boyle County is Kentucky’s first Recovery Ready Community. The Recovery Ready Communities Advisory Council approved Boyle County for successfully building community-based infrastructure to support addiction recovery.

Since the state announced the program in January, Boyle County is the first to be certified. The application was prepared by Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.

ASAP is a coalition of local citizens who meet monthly to tackle substance-abuse issues. Those people do a variety of things around prevention, education, harm reduction, treatment, recovery and enforcement; and in their meetings they discuss what is working and what resources are in greater demand.

ASAP started in 2000, along with many other similar groups across Kentucky, by tobacco settlement funds, and it focused on mainly prevention and education in school programs. ASAP Coordinator Kathy Miles said their focus has changed in recent years due to the opioid crisis.

She said about 2015 people realized the opioid crisis had hit Boyle County, and there were a lot of overdose deaths in 2016 in a short time frame. Now, ASAP focuses on many areas to help combat drug use.

Miles explained that the Recovery Ready council made a site visit to the county and was impressed with the types of services and people working together. She said they looked at prevention and education, school programs, enforcement, harm reduction, and were looking for communities that provide residents with access to treatment, recovery support, and that remove barriers to the workforce.

“The overall big thing that helped us be chosen is because we have so many different components of the community working together, so we talk to each other, share information, and learn together in the meetings,” Miles said. “They wanted to see a community that comes together to solve problems; they weren’t looking for us to solve all our problems, they just wanted us to show that we have things in place to address problems.”

What’s working for the county

Miles gave the following examples of programs that are successful in the county and what the Recovery Ready council was looking for:

• The county has a strong Harm Reduction Syringe Exchange Program, which is a service that allows injecting drug users to obtain hypodermic needles at no cost. According to the ASAP website, “It is based on the philosophy of harm reduction that attempts to reduce the risk factors for diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.”

It requires users to return used syringes to receive an equal number of new syringes. They also offer HIV and Hepatitis C testing, Hepatitis A vaccine, wound care kits with Band aids, alcohol pads, gauze, antibiotic cream, containers for needles, cotton and tourniquets.

• The local schools provide prevention information using evidence-based programs. They bring in speakers to share their stories of addiction, and the schools work to serve kids who are at risk.

• ASAP was able to get lots of free Narcan by being one of the first counties to get a UK grant to reduce overdoses. Narcan, also called naloxone, is a nasal spray that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. Miles said they were able to give out free Narcan to many people in the community and trained them how to use it, and would’ve never been able to do so without the grant funds.

“Unless we save lives, we can’t get people into treatment,” Miles said. “So we have gone with that goal of, as much as we can, getting that narcan out, training people how to reverse overdoses, so then people have the chance to get treatment.” • A drug court was recently introduced in the county court system, which Miles said many people had been wanting for a long time. Instead of receiving a jail sentence, drug court offers defendants with drug-related charges an opportunity to enter long-term treatment and agree to court supervision.

The local jail has worked to increase programs for inmates struggling with substance abuse, and ASAP works closely with law enforcement to keep everyone in the loop.

The county attorney also works closely with Shepherds House on getting inmates into recovery. Shepherds House is a day treatment service in the county that helps former inmates and those struggling with substance abuse to recover, gain life skills and employment.

• The county has an increased number of treatment providers and more recovery support groups, like Celebrate Recovery and NA groups. While there’s no residential treatment facility in the county, there are residential facilities in surrounding counties.

• The Fiscal Court is funding a new position with opioid settlement funds called the outreach coordinator. The outreach coordinator Terry Dunn goes on runs with EMS on calls about overdoses, mental health issues, suicide, and other related calls.

Dunn later follows up with those people to make sure they are okay and are getting the treatment they need. Miles said the council was very interested in learning about the position and were impressed by what he does.

“He tells very powerful stories of how important followups are after overdoses or suicide attempts or suicidal ideation,” Miles said.

Miles said only a few other communities in the state have a position like the outreach coordinator, and she believes every community should have one.

“Whenever we tell that story of what a difference it’s making that he can lead people to resources and go back the next day to take them free Narcan, and just talk to them about getting help – the more people hear about it the more they want to do it, usually it’s just a matter of finding the funding,” Miles said.

• Miles said that Danville has a lot of people involved in solving problems and who genuinely want to help. She said a sense of community and being inclusive is the biggest thing that prevents drug use and helps people recover.

“All these books that have been written about the opioid crisis, every single one, all those people conclude that building community, or rebuilding community, is one of the things we have to do to combat the drug crisis,” Miles said. “So children have people that support them, and places to go, and ways to learn what their strengths are.”

She also said ASAP has been working to educate and de-stigmatize substance abuse, and teach people that it’s a medical diagnosis that can be treated.

“It gives a lot of people hope to know that it’s a disease, it’s not a moral weakness, we’ve worked really hard on that,” she said.

Resources of need

Miles said since the county received the certification, other counties have asked her for ideas on addressing substance abuse. She recently went to another county to help with their Recovery Ready application and to talk about what’s working and what’s further needed.

For inspiration and ideas for Boyle, Miles looks to some things that Franklin County and Frankfort are doing. She said that the area has much work being done around young people, specifically a model of prevention called the Icelandic model.

• The Iceland model is an environmental approach in which parental supervision, organized after-school activities, and increased normative pressure, like curfew and family dinners, play a central role in reducing alcohol and drug consumption among youth.

Instead of just telling kids that they shouldn’t do drugs, the model provides things that kids can do instead, so every kid finds their passion, a hobby, and has a supportive adult.

Miles said they’ve helped with a few local youth programs, like plays in collaboration with the Arts Commission, but they want to address the next generation more than they have been.

• ASAP has had to focus mainly on adults in the opioid crisis, but now they want to focus more on helping the schools do everything needed for kids.

Some examples Miles gave that they could work with schools are to help provide speakers on substance use related topics, get information to parents about what they can do, increase awareness about the dangers of vaping, and help financially with vaping programming.

• Other resources that Miles said the county could use include a residential treatment program in the county; have detox available in the county limits; a local homeless shelter; and to integrate more knowledge of substance use and treatment with the private healthcare community.

• She said the obvious goal for law enforcement is for there not to be drugs brought in and sold in the county. Still many of their calls deal with life threatening drugs, like heroin, fentanyl, xylazine, and falsely labeled pills that are actually fentanyl. Citizens can help if they think they see a drug deal going on, to report it to police.

• “We’d like to have more employers that will hire people who have histories of incarceration, non-violent offenses, and history of substance abuse,” Miles said.

ASAP is organizing a conference to be held in the fall to help employers be good second chance employers. It will be put on with help from the workforce development committee.

“As long as we have overdose deaths, Boyle County has work to do, whether it is harm reduction or treatment, or law enforcement, or whomever,” Miles said. “So we set that in our Strategic Plan to have no overdose deaths, and it will remain there as long as there are any.”

The next articles will feature different entities that help deal with substance abuse issues.