FRANKFORT – September is National Recovery Month for people struggling with substance abuse, so hundreds of people gathered at the Kentucky State Capitol to walk for awareness.
State officials, those in recovery, and recovery advocates – such as Operation UNITE – were part of more than 300 people who took part in the “Walk for Recovery” on Monday, September 16.
Starting at the end of Capitol Avenue, the march to the Kentucky State Capitol was one full of hope. Some walkers were there to celebrate their own recovery, while others were honoring loved ones who lost battles to addiction.
Gov. Matt Bevin used the opportunity to announce a new statewide public awareness effort to continue the commonwealth’s historic momentum in combating the opioid epidemic. The Governor’s Office, in collaboration with the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s Office of Drug Control Policy, is launching the “Hope and Help” initiative to provide vital resources to individuals struggling with substance use disorder.
“As we continue our unrelenting fight against substance use disorder, we want to ensure that all Kentuckians have ready access to both HOPE and HELP,” said Gov. Bevin. “Our administration remains committed to strong partnership with legislators, law enforcement officers and healthcare professionals, as we allocate unprecedented resources to combat this scourge and save lives. Even as we make historic progress against this insidious enemy, we must stand united to deliver both HOPE and HELP, supporting families and communities fighting to break the cycle of addiction.”
Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, told the crowd on the front steps of the Capitol that for the first time in years, there was good news on the number of Kentuckians who died of a drug overdose.
“We saw a reduction of about five percent in overdose deaths across the nation, but in Kentucky we went down 15 percent,” he said. “That’s 233 families that didn’t have to lose a loved one. That’s 233 Kentuckians who are still with us.”
Many people took part to spread awareness about the opioid epidemic and educate the public. For the walkers who are in the midst of their journey to full recovery, the gathering was just more motivation to keep fighting.
Jason Roop says he has been in recovery since 2013, when he showed up on the steps of the Isaiah House in Washington County with a trash bag of clothes.
“I was arrested 18 times in my 17 years of addiction, overdosed four time, was raided by the police twice and became homeless,” Roop told the crowd. “I surrendered and gave my heart to Jesus, found my scripture, Isaiah 43:19. It says, ‘Behold I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’”
He said he clings to that scripture, “Because that was what I wanted, rivers and a way in the wilderness.”
Roop says he graduated from treatment in 2014, got married, worked for Isaiah House, then got an opportunity at Campbellsville University, as director of the technology training center. He also serves as pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Campbellsville.
Operation UNITE’s Nancy Hale said they need to have this celebration every day. “We’re not just celebrating recovery from addiction today. We are celebrating recovery of hope, of happiness, of a meaningful life. We are celebrating the recovery of purpose.”
Gov. Bevin said if there is a single word to take away from the event, it is hope.
“There is hope for people, and there is nothing that feels more hopeless than somebody who is lost in addiction,” he said. “I would hope that people take away an understanding not only that there is hope, but that that there are any number of people, in state government and out, that want to come alongside them and help them find a way forward.”
Bevin added, “There are a lot of lives touched by this. Every single family in America is touched directly or indirectly by this, including my own. I think it’s important to be very honest as a society about the fact that this has affected millions and millions of people. The sooner we put our arms around it, the sooner we’ll be able to truly address it.”
A new user-friendly, interactive website — HopeAndHelpKY.com — features powerful testimonials of hope and links to real-time access to help through Kentucky-based addiction treatment providers.
“This administration has poured unprecedented resources into fighting the opioid crisis, and we’ve made tremendous breakthroughs that have saved hundreds of lives,” said Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley. “But we still have work to do. We want every family in the Commonwealth to know hope and help is available through these resources. Recovery is possible — and it’s happening every day across our state.”
This new initiative follows the commonwealth’s previous “Don’t Let Them Die” campaign, which saw Kentucky make significant strides in fighting the opioid epidemic. In July, ODCP announced that drug overdose fatalities by Kentuckians decreased by nearly 15 percent (233 fewer deaths) from 2017 to 2018 — the first such decline since 2013.
“We must build on our momentum and continue to spread the word,” said Van Ingram, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy. “We want to empower every Kentucky citizen with the knowledge and resources to combat this crisis within the home and on the ground. Hope is here and we are ready to help.”
Over the past three and a half years, the Bevin administration has made attacking the opioid crisis a top priority, advancing a series of programs and policy initiatives to improve access to treatment and save lives.
Bevin and the General Assembly have significantly increased funding for the state’s drug response efforts, allocating a record $79 million over the past two budget cycles.
The governor and lawmakers also collaborated on House Bill 333, which limits opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply unless a doctor provides written justification for a larger amount.
Last year, the Kentucky State Police launched the Angel Initiative. Anyone suffering from a substance use disorder can now visit a KSP post and be paired with a local officer who will assist with locating an appropriate treatment program. The Kentucky Department of Corrections is currently undertaking a comprehensive overhaul of substance abuse programming, incorporating additional tools and options for clinicians and inmates. DOC is hiring additional treatment clinicians to provide services both inside and outside prison walls, and is providing dedicated treatment staff at Probation and Parole offices.
In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded more than $87 million for Kentucky CAN HEAL (Communities and Networks Helping End Addiction Long-term) — a partnership between the University of Kentucky’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. The project will fund a comprehensive four-year study aimed at reducing opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent in 16 counties that represent more than one-third of Kentucky’s population.
The Kentucky Opioid Response Effort, administered by CHFS is implementing a targeted response to Kentucky’s opioid crisis by expanding access to a full continuum of high quality, evidence-based opioid prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction services and supports in high-risk geographic regions of the state.
Compiled from stories by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today; Shelby Smithson, WKYT; and The Lane Report.