Whitesburg KY

Letcher initiative addresses opioid problem

The opioid and substance abuse epidemic has likely affected everyone in the Commonwealth in some way, shape, or form. While Kentucky has made great strides to those struggling with addiction, especially in the areas of offering both inpatient and outpatient expedited treatment options, the eradication of this epidemic must happen at home.

That’s the crux of the HEAL (Help End Addiction for Life) initiative in Letcher County. The county is a lot like many other counties; their hospitals and clinics are full of those struggling with addiction. This overflowed to their court system. It affects every walk of life — from those who are addicted, to families and children. It is wrecking lives every minute of every day.

The answer to this growing problem is multi-faceted and must include prevention, education, treatment, and lifelong recovery.

HEAL is spearheaded by Dr. Van Breeding, who works at Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation (MCHC) in Whitesburg. Dr. Breeding was named Staff Care’s 2017 Country Doctor of the Year. Staff Care’s assessment of Dr. Breeding was spot on: “He stands at the confluence of societal ills that are threatening the well-being of his home region.”

Dr. Breeding leads the monthly HEAL meetings, which have grown over the last three months from a few people gathered around a table at a local restaurant to more than 50 people on February 26. His passion for people is unwavering. He talks of how his approach to addiction changed after visiting Karen’s Place, an in-patient treatment facility operated by Addiction Recovery Care.

The HEAL initiative is led by a core group of organizations such as MCHC, Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Addiction Recovery Care, and SOAR, which has two employees from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) working in its offices. At any given meeting you will find representatives from multiple health sectors, the local college (Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College), public schools, the court system, faith-based organizations, non-profit organizations, civic organizations, and even arts and entertainment.

The February meeting featured a presentation from organizers of the Levitt AMP Series. Whitesburg was one of 15 towns in America selected for the concert series. HEAL’s involvement? It plans to have a health and wellness fair to complement the first concert on May 31 with an embedded emphasis on addiction.

Through the work of partnerships, such as that with the Letcher County Health Department, Whitesburg and Letcher County will begin a needle exchange program in April.

Also, through a partnership with Addiction Recovery Care, hospitals and clinics in the MCHC and ARH networks now have access to Peer Support Specialists to help clinicians and patients who are dealing with addiction. The idea is to provide a pathway to treatment — a pathway to hope and healing — as soon as possible.

The opioid epidemic is real. According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy’s 2016 Overdose Fatality Report, overdose deaths in Kentucky grew from 1,248 in 2015 to 1,404 in 2016.

HEAL is showing that real and practical solutions begin at home, and home is where healing begins. To eradicate this epidemic it will take a collaboration of all professions, representing all walks of life. It’s our problem. We must create and work our solutions.

HEAL demonstrates what is possible when everyone comes together and works towards a common goal. As I like to say, there’s something stirring in the mountains of Appalachian Kentucky. It’s a movement of hope, promise, and healing.

Joshua Ball is Associate Executive Director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR). He can be reached at (606) 766-160 or by email at joshua@soarky.org.

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