In Lexington, we are fortunate to have Ronnie Bastin, our public-safety commissioner, on the forefront of the fight against the heroin-overdose epidemic we are currently experiencing.
As a pastor and chaplain, I have seen the devastating effects of heroin addiction up close. The pain, the brokenness and the heartache of the lives lost and those impacted is wreaking havoc on our community.
Nevertheless, Bastin is utilizing innovative strategies and community collaboration to halt heroin overdoses.
On Oct. 25, he hosted a meeting with local clergy entitled “Substance Abuse Disorder Education and Community Outreach to the Faith Community” at the Public Safety Operations Center.
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Bastin, a visionary, recognizes that Lexington will not be able to police its way out of this problem. Therefore, the meeting was called to raise awareness, inform and solicit support. He will be piloting a heroin- and substance-abuse curriculum that will be church-based to educate, train, enlist volunteers willing to be on the front lines of this epidemic.
This type of collaboration is known in the public-health field as church-based health promotion or CBPH. It is evidence-based and has a track record of success. The fact that Lexington views the current epidemic as a public health matter, as opposed to a policing problem, was evident by the sobering statistics provided by Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency-room physician at Baptist Health Hospital. According to the Fayette County coroner:
▪ In 2013, there were 81 heroin-overdose deaths.
▪ In 2014, there were 108 heroin-overdose deaths.
▪ In 2015, there were 137 heroin-overdose deaths.
▪ In 2016, as of Oct. 25, there were 112 heroin-overdose deaths.
The use of Narcan, also known as naloxone — an opiate antidote administered to treat narcotic overdose in emergency situations — has significantly increased from 653 doses in 2013 to 1,169 as of Oct. 25. It costs as little as $2 a dose a few years ago but the price has skyrocketed to $38 a dose.
Moreover, heroin is now being mixed with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and Carfentanyl (one of the most potent synthetic opioids known). Therefore, more doses of Narcan are needed to rescue heroin users from dying from overdoses.
Fighting opioid addiction requires involvement and cooperation from medical professionals, health-care facilities, law enforcement, clergy and community activists, social workers and educators. Judicial reforms are necessary to decriminalize addiction and create pathways, facilities and resources for recovery. The success of the Lexington/Fayette County Health Department’s needle-exchange program serves as a blueprint for continued forward thinking.
With all that Lexington is currently doing, still more needs to be done.
For example, there is a great opportunity for the University of Kentucky, particularly its College of Public Health, to provide research and evidence-based best practices that could mitigate drug overdose deaths. Grants are needed to fund innovative and relevant community-based participatory research and UK is positioned to leverage its academic prowess toward achieving this worthy goal.
The leadership and courage provided by Bastin are to be lauded and emulated. His willingness to partner with local clergy and community leaders to address a complex and multi-dimensional public-health crisis demands more than just our respect, but our participation.
Let’s join him to save our community from this scourge that robs human potential, destroys families and eviscerates dreams.
The Rev. Jonathan Smith is the pastor of the Lima Drive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lexington and a hospital chaplain.