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Winning the Race Against Addiction

November 6, 2019

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Four Kentuckians die each day from a preventable and treatable disease: addiction. In 2017, Kentucky lost 1,566 loved ones to overdose, leaving empty spaces at dinner tables, in classrooms, and in hearts.

The Bluegrass State, known around the world for feisty bourbon, electrifying horse-racing and sweeping estates, has the fourth highest drug overdose rate in the country. Ending addiction in Kentucky will not be a Derby sprint; it will take creativity, cooperation, and compassion of an entire Commonwealth, a true cross-country endurance race. The Kentucky Innovations to Address Addiction report identifies 10 programs, helping people impacted by substance use disorder, saving lives, and changing society’s response to addiction.  

1. Operation UNITEKY_insta_ OpUnite

When Southern and Eastern Kentucky lost hundreds of people to overdose, the community had to respond with one united front. Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education) consists of law enforcement, treatment, and prevention efforts coming together and uniting with one voice. With a focus on impacting the next generation, prevention-focused Camp UNITE has hosted more than two thousand students at no cost. 

KY_insta_ CourtroomClassroom2. Courtrooms to Classrooms

“Help me help you.” Five times every school year, students at Rowan County Middle School hear these important words. But it’s more than a movie quote, it’s addiction prevention. Courtrooms to Classrooms teaches students how to choose the right path and the consequences of bad and good choices. Elected officials, people in recovery, and law enforcement officers speak to students, and social workers explain available resources.


3. Kentucky STARTKY_insta_ START

This program embodies what Innovation Now hopes to do — see effective programs replicated from state to state. The START program began in Ohio, and was adopted in Kentucky. Kentucky Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) is a Child Protective Services program for families with parental substance use issues and child abuse/neglect that helps adults achieve sobriety and keeps children with them. The goal is to keep children safe and reduce their placement into state custody, knowing that uniting a healthy family is the best option. 

KY_insta_DV84. DV8 Kitchen

Nestled in Lexington, DV8 Kitchen serves “food that will change your life.” Literally. Twenty-three out of 24 employees are in recovery from addiction, including the owner. The restaurant partners with five different treatment providers to hire people directly out of treatment. For those in recovery, a job means purpose, the ability to succeed, validation of their journey, and destigmatizing their disease. It also helps that the food is delicious. Yelp names DV8 Kitchen the 40th highest rated restaurant in the country.

5. Freedom HouseKY_insta_FreedomHouse

Women searching for treatment often have to choose between that critical care and caring for their own children.  Freedom House is a residential treatment program for pregnant women and women with young children. To get to the root of their addiction, the program takes a trauma-informed approach. There’s also a two-for-one benefit — not only do women get to work on themselves but they also take parenting classes so they can become the best mothers possible to their children.

KY_insta_ SAP6. Kenton County Detention Center Comprehensive Opioid Response with 12 Steps Jail Substance Abuse Program

The Kenton County Detention Center COR-12 JSAP endeavors to keep addiction from sapping the lives of inmates in a truly innovative way. Jailer Terry Carl and Inmate Addiction Services Director Jason Meerick saw a major addiction problem in the jail system. So, instead of sending people off to treatment for what’s typically called a “warm handoff” (in contrast to the cold streets), they created a “hot handoff” by bringing treatment directly to the jail.


Instead of putting people with an addiction behind bars, HEART (Heroin Expedited Addiction Recovery Treatment) gets people into treatment. HEART diverts people who face low-level, non-violent offenses from jail and into meaningful, intensive drug treatment as soon as possible. Those who comply with treatment often receive improved plea offers which usually include shorter sentences and periods of supervision, and sometimes reduced charges.


BOAT8. Bullitt Opioid Addiction Team (BOAT)

Oftentimes stigma can inhibit people from reaching out for help. Even though the U.S. Surgeon General, NIH, the CDC, and the White House Drug Czar declare that addiction is a brain disease, half of the country rejects that notion and continues to believe that addiction is a choice. Jennifer “Punkin” Stepp, who witnessed her own son struggle with addiction, refused to let stigma get in the way of treatment. She created BOAT, which educates people about addiction and even teaches children how to administer naloxone.


Young People in Recovery

9. Young People in Recovery

Addiction is an isolating disease, and for young people it can feel like you are the only one going through it. Many say that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s community.  Young People In Recovery is a national group with a Kentucky chapter where young adults can meet and socialize in a fun, safe, and supportive environment. The group hosts events, attends fairs and community gatherings to promote and nurture recovery from addiction around Kentucky.


KY_insta_VoicesofHope10. Voices of Hope

In your darkest hour, you need a glimmer of hope. Now, those struggling with addiction in Kentucky have a bright, guiding light, thanks to Voices of Hope. The program helps people in recovery stay in recovery by providing no-cost support services. Voices of Hope also supports those in active addiction by providing naloxone and a recovery support telephone line.

We, too, find hope in these 10 inventive and effective Kentucky programs. And while there is an urgency to our call to innovate now, we know that bringing all sectors together to combat addiction - and win the race against it - takes commitment, collaboration, and time.


Topics: Innovation Now

Kimberly Lohman Clapp

Kimberly is a five-time Emmy award winning journalist who has spent a quarter decade giving a voice to the voiceless, holding the powerful accountable, and exposing dangerous trends, scams, and products. She joined the Addiction Policy Forum in 2018 after serving as the APF Family Day emcee in DC, wanting to work with those impacted by addiction and help save the next family from heartbreak.