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With the assistance of an $87 million grant received by the University of Kentucky, efforts to curb the opioid crisis in Franklin County are amped up more now than they have ever been.

Since the beginning of the year Franklin County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) has been partnered with the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research on its HEALing Communities Study, which is funded through an $87 million grant from the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Sixteen Kentucky counties were selected by UK to participate in the study, including Franklin County.

The study consists of collaborating with state and community partners to implement evidence-based interventions to save lives, help people receive recovery support services, reduce harms and inform the nation on strategies that will help heal the opioid crisis. Through the interventions, the goal is to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths by 40% over three years.

The 16 counties were split into two groups. Franklin County, along with seven other counties, is in the first group that has been given a year and a half to participate in the study and develop strategies to curb the opioid crisis. After the year and a half, the other eight counties will attempt to implement those strategies.

“It’s very exciting,” Charles Kendell, ASAP board coordinator and HEALing Communities Study subcommittee chair, said. “It’s more of a community engagement strategic process.”

Kendell said there are three major initiatives of the study. The first being OEND (overdose education and naloxone distribution).

“How do we get naloxone into more people’s hands and educate them about overdoses,” he said.

Kendell said the county sees an average of 16-20 overdose deaths a year. 

The second initiative is MOUD (medication for opioid use disorder).

With grant funds, Kendell said ASAP has distributed naloxone for free to a variety of organizations. When Gov. Andy Beshear released prisoners from jail because of the coronavirus pandemic, Kendell said ASAP was able to provide the jail with naloxone to be given to those being released.

Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose, according to drugabuse.gov. It is an opioid antagonist — meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids.

ASAP also provided local treatment facilities with naloxone to give patients and they provide training to the naloxone distributors.

Kendell said he plans to approach the city and county about the Leave Behind initiative, which would allow EMS to leave behind naloxone to people they treated for overdoses.

The third initiative is Safer Rx (reducing opioid prescribing and increasing Rx disposal).

“Physicians are prescribing less opioids and are being careful,” Kendell said.

The main drugs they see now being used are heroin and meth. 

Kendell said ASAP has also reached out to physicians in town, asking if any of them would like to receive training on prescribing Suboxone, a prescription medicine used to treat adults who are addicted to, or dependent on, opioid drugs (either prescription or illegal) as part of a complete treatment program that also includes counseling and behavioral therapy.

ASAP is also working to increase the number of drop boxes in town where people can return opioids not being used.

“We are going to be putting more boxes at pharmacies in town,” Kendell said.

Kendell said there’s a real effort being made in the state for rapid response teams.

“Within 24 hours after EMS makes a overdose call, someone goes to that house to provide information about possible treatment,” Kendell said. “If you don’t intercede, it will keep happening.”

ASAP also has plans to approach the hospital to be able to have someone on site who can introduce treatment plans to overdose victims. They would also like to have someone on site at the Franklin County Regional Jail who can start people on treatment while their incarcerated.

“Most are there because of drugs,” Kendell said. “We want to start treating them in jail, so when they get out, they’re way ahead in their life and can transition to a clinic in town."

Also, through grant funding, ASAP has been able to provide more education to the community through social media and billboards that serves as a constant reminder to individuals who may be in need of help on ways to seek treatment.

“UK has brought a lot of resources to the table to help us do those things,” Kendell said. “We’re trying to remove the stigma for people who need treatment or are in treatment and need reinforcement.”

UK will also be assisting the Franklin County Health Department with its syringe exchange program. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, those participating in the program exchange their syringes through a window, but with cold weather approaching, UK is going to provide FCHD with a heated tent.

“We're hoping that through implanting these strategies, we have a more engaged community,” Kendell said. “This does not have to be a hopeless situation. We want people to have more hope so they don’t think this is the end.”

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