Report: Fighting heroin epidemic costly

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — A study of the heroin epidemic in northern Kentucky has found that it will cost at least $16 million over four years to stabilize and reduce usage of the drug.

The study was conducted over the last year by the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact and Response Workgroup. It outlines the depth of the problem and recommends fighting it with changes in education, prevention, support and protection.

Findings are to be announced publicly on Thursday, but the panel gave The Kentucky Enquirer (http://bit.ly/1hD8XdX) an exclusive look at the report before it is officially released. The document advocates a regional response to the problem.

The report outlines dozens of strategies to meet the goal of reducing the supply of and demand for heroin in the area.

“Right now, we have no ability to manage the patients who are addicted,” said Dr. Jeremy Engel, who spearheaded the work group in September 2012. “It’s chaos.”

The report found that nearly three times the number of high school seniors in Kentucky have tried heroin compared to the national average. In addition, heroin overdoses at St. Elizabeth HealthCare hospitals increased by 77 percent in 2012 over the previous year. The report also found the number of criminal cases involving heroin had increased 500 percent from 2008-2012 in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

“We now understand the heroin epidemic,” Engel said. “It is time to translate our understanding into commitment.”

The report said the funding needed for the effort is attainable, but local officials would need cooperation from state officials.

“That’s a critical piece,” said Adam Caswell, spokesman for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which will work with People Advocating Recovery to obtain more state funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“We are now at a tipping point. If we don’t get adequate funding — if we don’t get our hands around this heroin epidemic — this is going to be an entire-Kentucky problem,” Caswell said. “We know where the head of the snake lies: Northern Kentucky.”

Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Director Van Ingram wrote in the report that the plan addresses treatment, enforcement and education “in a significant way” and that it could “serve as a blueprint for communities across the commonwealth.”

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Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com

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