With Fayette County’s heroin overdose toll at 30, drug prevention advocates are asking people to wear silver ribbons this week to raise awareness and remember those who died this year.
International Overdose Awareness Day is on Aug. 31 but will be observed throughout the week. The silver ribbon is similar to the pink ribbons used to bring attention to breast cancer, said Sharon Tankersley of the Fayette County Mayor’s Alliance on Substance Abuse.
Tankersley serves on a task force of treatment specialists and city officials that convened in March to combat the spike in fatal heroin overdoses in Lexington in 2013.
There were 22 fatal heroin-related overdoses in 2012. Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said Thursday that there have been 30 fatal heroin-related overdoses so far in 2013, and two suspected heroin overdose deaths are still being investigated.
Tankersley said cards are also being distributed with the following message: “This silver ribbon is the universal symbol for awareness of overdose and its effects. Wearing silver honors a life lost too soon and supports those bearing the burden of grief. Wearing silver sends the message that the infinite value of each human being nullifies the prejudice and stigma towards people who use drugs. Wearing silver celebrates life.”
The main page of the Drug Free Lexington coalition’s website, Drugfreelex.com , has been devoted to providing a central referral point for people seeking local treatment.
Law enforcement officials have said they began seeing an increase in heroin use in Lexington in September and October of last year.
Kentucky’s crackdown on prescription painkillers in 2012 included the passage of a law that placed greater restrictions on access to prescription opioids. When pills became harder to get and therefore more expensive on the street, addicts turned to heroin. In addition to the silver-ribbon public awareness campaign, Urban County Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason confirmed Friday that he is looking into whether Lexington police officers can carry the life-saving drug Naloxone in their cruisers.
Naloxone, the generic name for the prescription drug Narcan, is used to revive people who have overdosed on heroin or other opiates.
Lexington Fire Department paramedics currently carry the drug.
A new Kentucky law says that a doctor can prescribe Naxolone to a third party who can then administer it to the addict in the event of an overdose. That person must then contact a public safety agent after administering the drug.
Mason said he is talking to representatives of the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, the state pharmacy board, the state attorney general’s office and lawmakers to determine whether it would be legal for police to provide the drug to a third party.
Narcan can be administered three ways: intravenously, by injection or by using a nasal mist.
While Mason is waiting on the legal determination, a parallel effort is taking place to draft a training protocol for police officers to administer the nasal version of the drug, Mason said.
Mason said in July that about 12 lives have been saved from overdoses because the fire department showed up with Narcan.
The Lexington task force’s initiatives also include having emergency medical technicians who respond to overdoses hand out pamphlets to heroin users and their families suggesting ways to get help.
Prosecutors are viewing the causes of overdose death as potential homicides, and judges are having training sessions on the fact that heroin is among the most difficult addictions to break.