Starting the conversation

Floyd County judges, prosecutors, drug court officials, employment specialists, substance abuse recovery specialists, prison re-entry specialists and a representative of Pikeville Medical Center talked about ways to deal with the county’s drug problem during a meeting on Aug. 29.

A group of local officials came together last week to look for solutions that could help reduce substance abuse in Floyd County.

Floyd County judges, prosecutors, drug court officials, employment specialists, substance abuse recovery specialists, prison re-entry specialists and a representative from Pikeville Medical Center discussed barriers to recovery from drug addiction, as well as things the county needs to maintain and improve its drug court programs.

Floyd County Judge-Executive Robbie Williams organized the meeting to seek recommendations from these officials. He said he would present the list of recommendations this month to University of Kentucky officials who are conducting a study geared to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent in four years in Floyd and 15 other counties.

“We want to get some ideas of what we need to ask for to fight this epidemic. You all are on the front lines. I’m not,” Williams said. “You all do it every day, so I thought it would be in my best interest to get the folks in here that deal with it everyday and maybe try to get some input, that way when these folks from the University of Kentucky show up … we can tailor a program that’s designed for our unique set of challenges and needs here in Eastern Kentucky. We don’t need them setting a program up designed for Lexington and Louisville.”

UK received an $87 million grant for this study earlier this year and it’s one of four such studies being conducted in the U.S. It’s part of the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) initiative.

The goal of the program is to “develop evidence-based solutions to the opioid crisis and offer new hope to individuals, families and communities affected by this devastating crisis,” a press release from UK said.

Floyd, Fayette, Jessamine, Clark, Kenton, Campbell, Mason, Greenup, Carter, Boyd, Knox, Jefferson, Franklin, Boyle, Madison and Bourbon counties were selected for this study because they were identified as “highly affected communities” that collectively had 764 opioid deaths in 2017.

The recommendations, comments and suggestions made by those who attended this meeting on Thursday exemplified the county’s problems with substance abuse.

When asked for recommendations for what Floyd County needs to fight the drug epidemic, transportation topped the list. Officials also mentioned the need for transitional housing for people in recovery, easier access to crisis stabilization for substance abusers with mental health problems, more counselors and, among other things, resources to educate the the public about resources offered to people who are addicted and incentives offered to employers who hire people in recovery.

District judges Eric Hall and Jimmy Marcum, circuit judges Tom Smith and Johnny Ray Harris and others said the largest barrier to recovery in the drug court programs they oversee is transportation. That need was emphasized repeatedly at the meeting.

Hall told attendees that Floyd County drug court programs have helped hundreds of people since he started drug court in 2004.

“We’ve had several hundred people run through our program now, and we are now probably one of the only counties east of Lexington that has a misdemeanor drug court that I’m over, a veterans drug court that my compadre here, Judge Marcum, is over, and a circuit drug court that our other judges are over,” he said. “Just as a side note, we just within days, are in danger of losing our transportation for our drug court program. We’re looking for help. We looking for someone to help us transport our drug court people.”

Marcum, Harris and Smith agreed.

Marcum said, “He’s correct. We’re turning down people because they don’t have transportation.”

Teddy Pack, program supervisor for the county’s drug court program, said the county is at the end of a four-year grant and funding is needed to replace it.

“Our numbers will be cut probably in half if we do not have some kind of transportation. We just had a four-year grant that we’re at the end of, like Judge Hall said,” Pack said. “Over 55 percent of the people that come into our program have a DUI, therefore they have no transportation. If they can’t get to our program, they cannot get the services that they need.”

Assistant Floyd County Attorney Tyler Green said the lack of transportation and “mental health issues beyond the scope of drug court” are the top reasons people are found ineligible for drug court in Floyd County.

“Without funding for transportation, a person in a similar situation in Wheelwright may not be able to attend or participate in drug court, as would somebody in Prestonsburg,” he said. “That’s why transportation is so important, so that everybody in the county can have the same opportunity.”

Trina Allen of the Kentucky Career Center suggested using church vans or school buses. Officials asked whether Sandy Valley Transportation could transport drug court attendees to and from court and/or treatment, but they were informed that regulations make it difficult. Officials also suggested a voucher system that would help people pay for gas. Marcum, however, said that will not solve the problem.

“Getting a voucher, I guess they could possibly get somebody in their family to help them, but a lot of these people don’t have anybody. Eighty-nine people that come in didn’t have a driver’s license … and 71 percent had DUIs,” Marcum said. “So, I mean, that would help some people, but that wouldn’t be a cure-all. That’s why we have a driver with a car. It’s amazing, what she can get done.”

Lawrence Vinson, director of healthcare administration at Addiction Recovery Care, said the message to UK “should be very clear, that this is not urban America.”

“They make a lot of those decisions based on the fact that a bus runs by their block, 16 times a day, and that doesn’t happen for our folks,” he said.

“We could drive them up Mud Creek and turn them out and tell them to get back to town,” Marcum said.

County Attorney Keith Bartley offered to take them on a tour.

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