Members of the community came together Thursday to talk about the very real problem of drugs and addiction.
A forum discussing the epidemic with opioids and narcotics in Kentucky was held at Mason County Middle School with WFTM radio hosts Robert Roe as moderator.
The forum was a collaborative effort of The Ledger Independent, Comprehend Inc. and WFTM Radio as part of an ongoing series about the crisis in the area. Members of the community were invited to attend, and voice their opinions and concerns to a panel of individuals who serve and lead the community.
The forum opened with a welcome from The Ledger Independent Publisher Rod Baker.
Once each of the panelists gave a short introduction , the audience of nearly 50 was invited to ask questions. Jill DeAtley, a CASA volunteer, ask how many children under the age of 18 were the victims of accidental overdoses.
“I can’t speak for this community, but there’s 13,000 non-fatal overdoses every year in Kentucky, a small percentage of them are children,” said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and one of the panelists.
Mason County Attorney John Estill, also on the panel, said “The types of cases we have, there’s lot’s of babies being born who are addicted to substances, who have tested positive for substances and all kinds of health issues there.”
DeAtley also inquired about the age range of those who voluntarily use and have overdosed from controlled substances.
“We don’t see too many fatal overdoses under 18, very, very few,” Ingram said. “One of the more interesting things in those numbers are the largest demographic in Kentucky that’s dying from drug overdoses is 45-54, and the next highest is 35-44.”
Ingram said the older demographic is at greater risk for overdoses because of the concern for younger individuals and drugs is far greater.
“We all think of this as a young person’s problem, and it’s really not because when a young person in a community dies of an overdose, there’s a visceral action throughout the whole community,” he said. “When a 52-year-old truck driver who’s been on opioids for 20 years for lower back pain, and now his or her physician has cut them off, and they’re buying heroin on the streets to feed their addiction, it kind of just goes past us. “
Panelist Mason County Coroner David Lawrence said the youngest fatal overdose that he’s worked with was 20 years old, while the oldest was 72.
The forum was also streamed live on social media, which opened the event to viewers who also provided their own questions and concerns. One viewer brought up the topic of medical cannabis, and how it has allegedly reduced the deaths from opioids by 24.8 percent in states which legalized it.
“If there is good regulations behind that, that’s going to be the most important thing,” Ingram said, regarding legislation for legalization. “It’s a difficult issue, it’s a difficult issue in conservative states, it’s a difficult issue in a poor state.”
Other members of the community expressed concern with the added issues that legalizing medical cannabis and marijuana could bring. Another panelist, Brad Tolle, feels there’s possibly more to addiction than the substances themselves. Tolle is an addiction treatment professional and owner-operator of Bright Outlook Recovery Sober Living in Northern Kentucky and a recovering addict.
“Ignoring any particular substance, I think one of the things we ignore most often when it comes to addiction is the mental health aspect,” he said, garnishing applause from the audience.
Throughout the conversations, the option of a solution remained an abstract goal. Curing people from addiction doesn’t have a ‘one size fits all’ fix, which everyone present was well aware of, and keeping addicts clean proves to be a prevalent issue as well.
Tolle shared his story of recovery, in response question from an online viewer, which detailed his struggle to remain clean and the power of addiction.
“In 2007, a group of really fine fellows showed up and showed me my way to Mason County Detention Center,” he said. “Mr. Estill was nice enough to send me to the grand jury and the grand jury was nice enough to send me to Mr. Wood, who gave me seven years of corrections for doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.”
While in jail, he was given opportunities and attended programs that helped him abstain from his addiction. Once he was released, however, the temptation returned, and there was no institution stopping him from resuming his habit.
“When I got out, the insane idea that I could just drink one won over, and that one drink led to another drink like it always had for me.”
After another jail sentence, Tolle knew he needed to be free, and he begun to pray. He then subscribed himself to a recovery plan and stuck with it, eventually becoming clean.
“If you’re looking for any type of access to treatment, it is available, there plenty of them available here in the state of Kentucky, whether it is 30 days or long-term, six months of treatment,” Tolle said.
A the conclusion of the program, Dr. Pamela Vaught of Comprehend gave some closing remarks and invited the audience to get involved in the fight and to sign up for a task force that will find solutions to fight addiction and the drug problem in the community.
Reactions to the forum were positive, with many people hopeful that the conversation was conducive to a solution.
“It’s inspiring to see how many people in this community are interested in tackling this problem,” said Johnathan Gay, director of External Affairs for Addiction Recovery Care. “The panelists, very common sense, obviously know the issues very well and it was goo to hear the approach that they had.”
Access to the entirety of the forum can be viewed on The Ledger Independent’s Facebook page.
For more information about how to join the task force to help the community, contact Mary Ann Kearns at [email protected]