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Forum tackles area’s latest drug problem: heroin

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By Alix Mattingly

 

Addiction is not often a topic for casual conversation but local leaders are hoping to change that.

“If you would have told me a year ago that I would be in Oldham County giving a talk on heroin I would have given you a blank stare,” Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Allison Jones said.

Jones was speaking to the approximately 100 people who had gathered at North High School Auditorium on Thursday night for a panel discussion entitled Heroin Hits Home: Our Community’s Response.

The idea for the panel came to Jones after she was elected to the bench and toured her district to get a handle on issues facing Kentuckians, she said.

“What I heard was heroin, heroin, heroin, time after time,” Jones said. “We are in a heroin epidemic and people don’t know where resources are. I couldn’t stand by and listen while people told me heroin was tearing their communities apart. I’m not a doctor, I can’t build a treatment center but I do have a voice.”

The forum began with a testimonial of a local young woman who became addicted to heroin.

One of a family of seven, a Sunday school teacher, a college soccer player and a good student, Abby is not the typical image of an addict.

“I ran and filled my time with anything but Abby and her problems,” she said.

Stress from seeking perfection in her academic and social lives, lead Abby to an “emotionally dark place,” she said.

While in this dark place, Abby began down the path that would lead her to addiction. Her first experience with drugs came in the form of a pill offered by friend who pressured her into taking it. The second encounter came from heroin in a needle.

“I loved it, it was the best numbing agent,” Abby said of the injection.

Her drug use continued and Abby became addicted to heroin.

“The heroin was breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said. “You can’t run from yourself, so I numbed myself. It became more than a mental addiction, it became a physical addiction, after a while I used to stay normal.”

After using for a long time, Abby decided to tell her parents what was going on. They reacted with disbelief and attributed her weight loss to an eating disorder, she said. It wasn’t until Abby showed her parents the scars from the needles that they believed her.

Abby was taken to a treatment facility where she detoxed using a prescription called Suboxone that helps with opioid dependency treatment. Eventually Abby traded the Suboxone to her drug dealer for heroin and started using again.

After using for a long time again, Abby sought treatment again and went through detox with no help from prescription drugs.

Abby is now 106 days clean and attributes her recovery to God, tough love from her parents and working every day to deal with stress and emotions in a healthy way.

Abby’s parents spoke and urged the audience to speak out if they suspected drug use in a family or friend.

“It’s a daily mind set,” Abby’s mother said. “Everyday requires choice of life over the drug.”

The sentiments of Abby’s parents spilled over into discussion by a panel about what heroin is, what it looks like, treatment options and how prevalent the drug is in the area.

Dr. Molly Rutherford opened the discussion by explaining that heroin is derived from morphine which is made from the plant known as an opium poppy. She went on to say that heroin has been on the rise since approximately two years ago when Kentucky passed a law to put limits on pain pills. At that point heroin dealers saw an opportunity to fill a void in the drug market and stepped in with heroin which is cheaper and works faster than pills, Rutherford said.

“There is no question in my mind, we have an epidemic,” Henry Fuqua of Our Lady of Peace, a Louisville facility that focuses on mental health a substance abuse issues, said.

Fuqua works with Oldham County Schools to help students deal with mental health and substance abuse issues.

“Kids in my program say heroin is the main drug,” Fuqua said. “One kid said he could go up to seven different people in school and get heroin.”

Major Ben Willen of Oldham County EMS said that in the past 10 months EMS has been on 82 overdose runs and 37 of those involved narcotics.

Detective Scott Crigler with Oldham County Police added to Willen’s statistics saying that February saw 11 indictments in Oldham County related to heroin and that in 2013 there were 14 trafficking arrest and 11 of those were from heroin.

The white or sand colored powdered heroin is the most common form in the area, Crigler said. Other panelists added heroin also comes in a small rock-like form, a black or brown tar-like form and pill form.

Panelists went on to discuss treatment options for those wishing to stop drug use. The panel agreed that a variety of options are available because there is no one guaranteed treatment course. They urged individuals to seek help immediately but to also explore treatment options and decide what will work best for them.

Rutherford noted that a person’s primary care physician or pediatrician is a good place to start.

Jones saw the event as a success saying that the discussion was “aimed at getting a baseline of information out there.”

“We need to get the issue out there and get people talking,” Jones said.

Email us about this story at amattingly@oldhamera.com.