I’m a proud Kentuckian. We have a rich, fascinating history, beautiful landscapes, amazing people, and a tradition of commerce, great food, basketball, horses, and hospitality. I join Kentuckians everywhere in feeling a sense of pride when the world turns its eyes to us, like when we hear “My Old Kentucky Home” at Churchill Downs right before the Kentucky Derby.
We have a great deal to celebrate as Kentuckians. At the same time, there are challenges we have to face together, and among the greatest of those challenges today is the opioid epidemic.
As detailed in this month’s issue of Kentucky Living, opioid addiction is a national tragedy that’s affecting communities all across Kentucky. In January of 2017 alone, Louisville’s Metro Emergency Services answered 695 opioid-related overdose calls, an average of 22 a day. That’s unacceptable, so we’re working to address this crisis in a variety of ways, including filing a federal lawsuit against three opioid distribution companies whose actions directly contributed to the crisis in our community. (Any funds gained from this action will be used for treatment.) Other steps we’re taking include:
Stopping Overdoses—We’ve supplied all of first responders with Naloxone (sold commercially as Narcan), which can reverse the effects of an overdose in progress and saves lives. While it doesn’t cure addiction, if we don’t save a life today there’s no chance of recovery tomorrow. We work with the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition to offer overdose prevention training and free Naloxone kits to anyone and everyone in the community. This is critical for people who have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction.
Safe Disposal—One of the best ways to prevent substance misuse is to get rid of unused or expired medications. We provide seven secure Drug Drop Boxes throughout Louisville and a map of their locations on our website. The DEA offers a nationwide map of drug disposal sites.
Syringe Exchange—Establishing a syringe exchange program isn’t condoning drug abuse, it’s acknowledging that we’re fighting a disease and a public health crisis that requires us to provide help in many forms. People who use syringe exchange programs are five times more likely to seek treatment than those who don’t. The Louisville Syringe Exchange Program has been in operation for more than two years now and has worked with more than 12,000 participants, and we’re referring as many as we can into addiction treatment programs. Our syringe exchange also keeps used needles off our streets, parks, and other public spaces. We’re also able to test our participants for HIV and Hepatitis C and get them connected to medical care to limit the spread of those diseases.
Compassion in Words and Actions—Compassion is one of our core city values and it informs all of our policies, including how we deal with drug addiction, including how we describe the epidemic itself. Studies have shown that the social stigma surrounding drug addiction often prevents people with substance abuse disorder from entering treatment. So it’s in our interest as a community to end that stigma. That’s why we no longer use the word “addicts” in our communications. Instead we use terms like “people with substance use disorder” because we want to show them the same respect we offer people struggling with cancer or heart disease.
I’d like to thank the medical professionals, counselors, public servants, volunteers, and others throughout Kentucky who are working to heal the wounds caused by the opioid crisis. Your dedication and compassion belong on any list of Kentucky’s many sources of pride.
I also want to send my support and encouragement to all the Kentuckians who are struggling with opioid addiction themselves. You are not alone. You can beat this. We believe in you and we are here to help.
Be sure to read Kentucky Living’s November 2017 Health Focus, Combating Kentucky’s Opioid and Drug Crisis.
For more information about how Louisville is responding to the opioid crisis go to the Metro Louisville Office of Addiction Services page.