“Thank God my story doesn’t start with ‘I lost my son to addiction,’” says Jennifer “Punkin” Stepp. While her story ends with her son in recovery, it doesn’t mean the road was easy. Stepp’s son, Sammy, was introduced to drugs at an early age. As his addiction deepened, Stepp began to look for help in her community. However, resources in Bullitt County were few. “After a while, you start getting tired of people saying you are a bad parent or your child is defective.
Eventually, you start to get angry,” says Stepp. She started to travel to other parts of Kentucky, and eventually to other parts of the country, to find out about what other people were doing.
Naloxone was what others were doing. Stepp decided she wanted to bring naloxone to Bullitt County. She was among those that worked to ensure the successful passage of Senate Bill 192, expanding naloxone access to the public, paving the way for a mission. However, educating the community was an uphill battle as many still viewed naloxone as “enabling.” Stepp remembers her first public event vividly. “The event was on March 11, 2015. It wasn’t very crowded but we were able to give out naloxone. Key people in the community, including a state representative and the local jailer, showed up. The event was the first step to breaking the silence.”
This was also the beginning of the Bullitt Opioid Addiction Team (BOAT). The team consists of impacted family members, people in recovery, and local community members.
After that first naloxone training, BOAT continues to offer it. Then, Stepp’s 8-year-old daughter, Audrey, came to her with an interesting request. She wanted to learn how to use naloxone. “She said, ‘If something happened to my brother, I would want to save him,’’’ remembers Stepp. “Why not?,” she thought. “This can be a conversation starter for kids and also help to reduce the stigma of addiction.” So, she taught Audrey how to use naloxone. She snapped a picture of Audrey measuring naloxone into a syringe and put it on her Facebook. A reporter picked up on it. The response was immediate. Some people called it child abuse and criticized Stepp. Others praised her for teaching a child how to save a life. The attention just made her want to train more kids. Now, when she sees naloxone training happening in middle and high schools, she thinks, “See? The idea wasn’t so crazy after all.”
BOAT also educates the community about addiction and available resources. For instance, at BOAT events you may learn about a law that is unique to KY and OH, Casey’s Law. This law was passed in 2004 and allows parents, relatives, or friends to submit a petition requesting a lawful intervention, or court-ordered treatment, for someone battling with substance use disorder. Even more unique, you may hear Punkin or Sammy speaking about their experience with this law. Punkin understands the anguish of being a petitioner and filing Casey’s Law, while Sammy understands the anger of being a respondent in Casey’s Law.
Audrey is no longer that little 8 yr old girl, so controversial because she is giving a shot of naloxone to her stuffed animal on the nightly news. She is now an accomplished middle school student and still volunteers with BOAT. And what about Punkin’s son Sammy? Well, she is no longer petitioning him in court, instead she counts her blessings everyday because she still has him. He volunteers with BOAT paying it forward whenever he can.
BOAT was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.