A bipartisan group of legislators, statewide officials, state officials, and business community representatives came together Tuesday to observe Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held on Aug. 31 each year to raise awareness of drug overdoses, to reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths and to acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends as they remember those who have died or have a permanent injury as a result of a drug overdose.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear pointed to the families around the state that are affected and torn by this issue and touted the bipartisan group as he said fighting substance use disorder is not about politics and it is critical all that are involved fight this epidemic together.
The governor stated the COVID-19 pandemic has made recovery even harder and Kentucky has seen a near 50% increase in overdose deaths with at least 2,104 drug-related deaths in the 12-month period ending in December 2020.
“Our job is to provide help, hope and a hand to lead people out of the darkness of substance use and into the light – of acceptance, opportunity and community,” Beshear said. “Today, we take time to honor the lives lost to overdose and addiction – and call all Kentuckians to work together to prevent future pain and suffering.”
Beshear noted Kentucky has many incredible programs working to deal with this issue and applauded the work of the Kentucky Chamber and other organizations and state agencies for their work in the area as he stated the Commonwealth must address substance use disorder to reach its full potential.
Senior Vice President of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation Beth Davisson shared her personal story and struggle with substance use disorder at the press conference stating her family had a long history of addiction issue and after watching both of her parents struggle and losing a grandmother to overdose, she began drinking at the age of 12.
“I was destined to have this disease. It runs in every limb of my family tree. When I was in the first grade, my mother got clear enough to check herself into rehab and she and my father bravely entered recovery together. But months later, my beloved grandmother would intentionally overdose and take her own life with the prescription pills she used on a daily basis. And five short years later – at the age of 12 I would start drinking and head down a destructive path that lasted for years,” Davisson said. “And I grew up a privileged suburban kid in Louisville, with access to family, resources, and an example of how to recover. But as we know, not everyone is so lucky.”
Davisson said it is crucial to fight for those who lost this battle and the state is making great progress as other states are looking to Kentucky for hope due to the innovative and sustained approach the state is taking to this crisis.
The Kentucky Chamber Foundation, she said, is proud of partnerships with the Office of Drug Control Policy, Kentucky Education and Workforce Cabinet and other state agencies which are fueling programs within the Chamber to recruit more than 19,000 fair chance jobs across the state and train thousands of employers on how to help their workforce. She added ongoing evaluation of all recovery programs across the state is essential for continued success.
“We can’t stop. We are making progress but we have so far to go. The odds are likely another 12-year-old in our state will start using today and they may not be as lucky as I was,” Davisson said. “For so long, I was worried speaking up would worry my career but now being in recovery is one of the things I’m most proud of. No one should suffer alone and no one should die alone.”
Also during the press conference, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron stated getting drugs off street is critical, and his office is working hard to ensure communities are safe as well as holding pharmacy companies accountable for their role in this crisis. Settlements will be split evenly between the state and local governments to go to programs and projects to best serve those struggling with substance use disorder as a result of House Bill 427.
Director of The Office of Drug Control Policy Van Ingram thanked the governor for lowering the flags and holding this event as it is an essential part of decreasing stigma especially at this time.
He noted Fentanyl is everywhere in drug supply and is incredibly deadly so it is important Kentucky does everything possible to reduce barriers to success such as accessibility to treatment, transportation, and housing.
Ensuring all programs are working together and rolling in same direction is crucial, Ingram said, adding his office is proud to partner with the Kentucky Chamber Foundation to train more than 4,000 companies to become fair chance employers.
Rep. Pattie Minter told the stories of two brothers in Bowling Green who each died of overdoses, one of which was a student of hers who passed away from an overdose in college and his brother who struggled with substance use disorder for many years and was in and out of treatment before passing away.
“We must work to get rid of the stigma and build a community of care that helps people recover,” Minter said.
Kentucky has made strides around making sure people get what they need when they need it, Rep. Kim Moser said. She noted every state is struggling with similar issues because of an influx of fentanyl and added the state must continue to expand access to evidence-based treatments and addressing mental and behavioral health.
House Bill 497, which passed during the 2021 session of the General Assembly with help of the Kentucky Chamber, tasks the Kentucky Department of Corrections with issuing certificates of employability to those who successfully complete programs while in incarceration. In addition, it incentivizes employers by providing liability protections. The bill further encourages other important reentry supports such as IDs and better access to health care for people leaving incarceration.
Watch the full press conference on Facebook here.