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Community Approach to Kentucky's Opioid Crisis Urged

Leaders in the fight against Kentucky's escalating opioid crisis gather in Lexington to talk solutions. (Greg Stotelmyer)
Leaders in the fight against Kentucky's escalating opioid crisis gather in Lexington to talk solutions. (Greg Stotelmyer)
September 26, 2017

LEXINGTON, Ky. – As Kentucky continues to face an opioid crisis longer and more severe than in most states, experts are pushing for community-generated solutions.

Approximately 350 policymakers and health advocates sold out the 15th annual Howard L. Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum Monday in Lexington.

Keynote speaker Sam Quinones, a journalist whose book Dreamland chronicles the rise of prescription opioid abuse, says addicts often face "debilitating solitude."

"It seems to me that a drug that thrives on isolation is best attacked through the community," he explains. "These are ideas that have seemed to me self-evident as I've gone through my research."

According to the state's Office of Drug Control Policy, more than 1,400 Kentuckians died of a drug overdose last year - with the introduction of the synthetic opiate fentanyl into the heroin supply, driving up the death toll.

Van Ingram, who oversees the agency, says over the next few weeks his office will channel about $3 million in government grants into community-level efforts.

Ingram acknowledges state and federal dollars alone won't do the job.

"Frankfort will not solve your drug problem here in Hopkinsville or here in name the town," he says. "Matter of fact, Washington won't solve Kentucky's drug problem. Do we need them in the mix? Absolutely."

Ben Chandler, executive director of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, says society has become selfish and that's "unhealthy." He says while taxes and compromise have become "nasty" words, the reality is it's going to take more resources to reduce the drug epidemic.

"We're 'Every man for himself,' and what it's really about is community," Chandler says. "It's about us knowing each other. It's about us caring for each other. And, we've got to move more toward that."

Quinones, who has spent a lot of time in this region reporting from what he calls the epicenter of addiction in America, agrees. He's convinced despite being stifled by decades of economic decline and dope, the region can find solutions.

"It's in the DNA of this area to come together and innovate," Quinones added.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY