Third annual Harlan County Drug Summit looks at ways to address addiction, with a focus on prevention

Kentucky Health News

Nearly 200 people attended the third annual Harlan County Drug Summit on Thursday, Jan. 11, to hear a message largely focused on prevention, Chandler Wilcox reports for Hazard’s WYMT.

“We have a lot of resources around treatment, recovery housing, long-term recovery, programs for people who have been in addiction, but there just hasn’t been enough investment made in prevention,” said Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley.

Several students from Harlan County High School and Harlan High School who are in clubs sponsored by Operation UNITE, the regional anti-drug group, also took part in the summit, reports Wilcox. 

“It’s really nice for everybody to know, especially in school, about how it can effect not only them, but the people around them,” said Harlan County High School student Morgan Blevins.

The keynote speaker at the drug summit was Julie Hofmans, who was also scheduled to talk to students at both schools the day after the summit. Her son died from a fentanyl overdose in 2020. The fentanyl was in a pill designed to mimic a prescription Xanax tablet, according to a 2022 story by Beth Warren of the Louisville Courier Journal.

Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, told the attendees that there is good news and bad news related to drugs and addiction, according to an Operation UNITE press release

The bad news, Ingram said in the release, is that “we’re going to lose six more Kentuckians today – preventable deaths.” Five of these deaths, he noted, will be due, at least in part, to fentanyl. 

Further, he said the profits reaped because of the “financial model” of illegal drug trafficking likely means “we will be dealing with this the rest of our lives.”

But, Ingram continued, the positive news is that Kentucky is in the best position it has ever been to address each aspect of addiction , treatment, and recovery.

The release goes on to note that Ingram cited, as an example, the work of Operation UNITE over the past 20 years and the KY HELP Statewide Call Center, which is staffed by the organization. 

He also cited other programs that help remove barriers for people in recovery to obtain meaningful employment, reduce the stigma that surrounds substance use disorders, provide alternative sentencing when appropriate for those in the criminal justice system, and provide funding for individual communities to address local needs, according to the release.

“Every community needs to look at itself” to see if they have the resources they need, said Ingram. “We’re not going to get out of this easily. It is a long-haul fight.”

Mosley agreed, saying, “It requires all of us to do a little to make a huge impact.” 

Tom Vicini, president and CEO of Operation UNITE, also stressed the importance of prevention in this day, when “the drugs that are out there are the worst in history,” says the release.

In the past, he said, while speaking to a group of students from Harlan Independent, “We’ve been reactive instead of proactive. What about cutting it off at the source? We fight this by reducing the demand.”

Turning to the adults in the room, the release notes that Vicini said it doesn’t matter your age or position, it’s about the passion you bring to the effort. 

“One adult can change the trajectory in the life of a child,” he said, adding those in recovery are the best people to share the prevention message. “They know what it’s like. I want them teaching kids.”

Vicini called on the group to recommit themselves to this prevention effort, saying, “We’re just scratching the surface.”

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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