Mayfield and Graves County will be the staging area for a new initiative to help residents who have suffered drug overdoses in the Purchasing District.
Lauren Carr, the project coordinator for the local program at the Agency for Drug Policy and Prevention, was approached in mid-July by Turning Point, a community center for recovering from drug use. They came up with a plan to help residents before any legal action, or worse, death.
For Carr, who is determined to help those suffering from drug addiction, it was obvious.
“We just want to show people that there is hope, that there are services out there, not to give up, and that there are people who will support them,” she said. .
This “Rapid Response Team” or QRT will see Turning Point “Peer Support Specialists” approach these addiction victims and offer to guide them through the long and arduous recovery process.
The way it works is that when Mayfield-Graves County Emergency Medical Services respond to an overdose call, they will subsequently report it to a law enforcement agency. This agency will then pass this information on to Carr, who will then arrange for a specialist to approach the patient about the treatment.
These specialists are also recovering from addiction and want to use their unique position to help others. The aim is to encourage patients to seek treatment before being arrested, or worse, dying of an overdose.
Brandon Fitch, the program director at Turning Point, said users would typically not find treatment until after going to jail, when options were presented to them. But with the rise of opioid drugs and fentanyl, people are dying before they even get there.
According to the Office of Drug Control Policy’s 2020 Overdose Mortality Report, which was provided by Carr, 1,964 Kentuckians died of drug overdoses last year, a 49% increase from 2019 (1316).
Nationally, more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020; the highest ever recorded in a 12-month period. Of these deaths, an opioid was involved in 90% of them and fentanyl was involved in 70% of them.
The report also states that the COVID-19 pandemic is considered a major factor contributing to the increase in drug use.
Fitch understands that some communities and agencies might be uncomfortable with the new program, but he hopes the success of it will change their perception, because “it’s really about saving lives.”
“I think there is a bit of hesitation when you introduce a new program, new people because they care about the citizens of the county,” Fitch said. “So we hope they see the success of this program and then join them. “
“We don’t hope that an overdose will happen soon, but as soon as an overdose occurs, we are good to go right away,” he added.
Sam Peterson, who also works for Turning Point, said that, like the peer support specialists, he was also recovering. He stressed that their mission is to help people get better by contacting them earlier.
“Our goal is to help people in recovery find resources in the community, to introduce people to the recovery community,” said Peterson. “We have several peer helpers that people can work with on their own. If people need treatment, we have to try to help them find treatment. We support everyone’s recovery.
Although a police officer accompanies the specialist to the individual’s home on the first visit, Police Chief Nathan Kent said his goal was not to arrest anyone.
“Law enforcement is only involved for the initial contact with the patient and only to ensure the safety of the peer support specialist,” Kent said. “The participating law enforcement officers will be identifiable, but willfully dressed in something other than a Class A uniform.
“The goal is to get drug addicts to undergo treatment, to get them sober and to work on their recovery,” he added.
Fitch said the idea behind a QRT originated around Cincinnati, and Kentucky cities such as Louisville and Lexington have already implemented this “new approach” to overdoses. It came to fruition with the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort Foundation Grant.
Another underlying goal of Turning Point is to change the public’s perception of people who suffer from drug overdoses. Fitch said drug overdoses are indiscriminate killers and it’s important to give people with “life-saving drugs and treatments” before it’s too late.
“We really want to fight the stigma there,” he said. “Having an overdose is not something we have to hide. It’s embarrassing, there’s a lot of shame and guilt associated with it, but we need to talk about it.
This partnership will involve officials from ASAP, Turning Point, the Mayfield Police Department, the Graves County Sheriff’s Office and the Mayfield-Graves County Emergency Medical Service.