HARLAN – Prevention specialists, law enforcement officials, treatment and recovery advocates from across southern and eastern Kentucky gathered at the Harlan Center on January 12, 2023, to discuss the ever-changing landscape of addiction and substance use disorder.
The overall goal, however, remained the same: To educate the community about the drug problem, discuss possible solutions, and showcase treatment and recovery resources.
Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley noted this was the second summit, but, the major issues facing communities have changed greatly since the first event in 2019. “A lot of things have changed related to this problem,” he said. “There have been some alarming statistics relating to fentanyl.”
According to Mosley, fentanyl is responsible for one death every five minutes in the United States.
“Fentanyl is out there, and we’ve got to educate our community and make people aware of what’s going on. People need to be aware of that,” Mosley said. “There have been more people killed in the United States from fentanyl overdoses in 2022 than by guns and car accidents combined. It’s alarming, and it’s right here in our backyard.”
“Fentanyl has also been found in cocaine. It’s been found in methamphetamine. Fentanyl’s everywhere, and it doesn’t take much to take a life,” said Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.
The latest Kentucky Drug Overdose Report notes that fentanyl accounted for approximately 73% of drug overdose deaths in 2021.
Solutions will not come overnight. It will take a consistent, long-term effort with all stakeholders working together.
“It’s not something that you can implement this year in a school or in a community with a program and see immediate results,” said Nancy Hale, President & CEO of Operation UNITE. “It is long term.”
Many organizations are aligned ready to fight it, and in many different ways, like the Kentucky State Police Angel Initiative.
“Whether it’s addiction or about battling substance abuse, they can walk in and at that point we will do a small screening on them, and to try to locate them into a treatment facility to assist them,” noted Officer Shane Jacobs, Public Affairs Officer with Kentucky State Police Post 10.
Art therapy is a different solution that calms your mind.
“If you’ve ever had a moment where you go round and round with intrusive thoughts and they just won’t get out of your head, it’s because you cannot stop thinking about them and you need to something that brings you back to the present,” said Olivia Petty-Taylor, owner of Land Of Liv.
State government offices are also planning a campaign.
“Later this year, we’re gonna do a fentanyl awareness campaign, because a lot of people don’t know that the pill they buy on the street might just contain fentanyl,” Ingram said.
Addiction recovery specialists plan to put an emphasis on educating teenagers so they can start the fight early.
Mosley said he hopes to make the drug summit an annual event.
“Anybody who is concerned about the drug epidemic and wants to be part of the solution should make plans to attend,” Mosley said. “If you have a business or your church does something related to helping folks with treatment or some type of recovery support, you should consider being an exhibitor.”
The Harlan Daily Enterprise and WYMT TV contributed to this article.