Community Health

Joe Strothman was prepared to see someone overdosing. He was even prepared for it to happen in front of his house. And in February, it finally happened.

“When I looked in the car, I realized he wasn’t having a heart attack, he was having an overdose,” Strothman said. “And I knew that because he had a syringe in his arm. He went from pink to pale to white.”

Recent data show the number of drug overdoses in Louisville continues to climb, and one of the ZIP codes hardest hit is 40215. This ZIP code includes Beechmont, a neighborhood that sits a mile or so south of Churchill Downs. Last year, in that ZIP code, EMS administered 292 doses of Narcan, a drug that reverses an overdose. That number from Beechmont was almost quadruple the total from the previous year.

Strothman, his wife Keren and their three children moved to Beechmont in South Louisville in 2015. It was soon after that heroin and opioid use began to pick up in Beechmont. So, Joe Strothman took Narcan overdose classes at the Jefferson County Health Department.

That’s why he had Narcan — hidden away from his kids in his basement — on the day a man began to overdose in front of his house. As he ran to get it and then to administer the drug, Keren Strothman and their three elementary school-aged kids watched from the living room window. She hadn’t expected to give them a talk about drug use so soon.

“I think what I told them was, ‘you don’t do it because you never know if the first time this is what could happen, and there might not be a daddy there to save you,’” Keren Strothman said. “I try to remember that he’s someone’s dad, someone’s son — it makes me emotional — and he’s just caught up in something he probably obviously can’t control anymore.”

The Strothmans’ three children – ages 6, 7 and 8 – had all kinds of questions about what was happening:

Lisa Gillespie | wfpl.org

Joe and Keren Strothman

“Why was the man on the ground? Was he breathing? What was Daddy giving him? Was he going to die?”

After Joe Strothman shot the man with Narcan, after the ambulance came, after the police questioned why Strothman had Narcan, after the man woke up and tried to run away and after the neighbors stopped watching and went back inside their homes, the Strothman kids would talk about it for days.

“I emailed the principal and said, this happened, just FYI,” Keren Strothman said. “I don’t want them to be talking about it, and other parents have to explain to their kids because my child came and talked about this guy overdosing on heroin.”

After their first-hand experience with a drug overdose, the Strothmans weren’t surprised to see the numbers. Maps published earlier this week by Insider Louisville and the Civic Data Alliance showed Beechmont highlighted bright orange, indicating the neighborhood had the biggest increase in Louisville EMS overdose runs between 2015 and 2016.

“It’s not a matter of should they be doing it or not — they are,” Joe Strothman said. “If we leave them out here to hang, whose fault is that? I think it’s everybody’s. That’s more of a personal view than some chart on some map that’s saying we have a problem in this ZIP code. Well, it’s obvious we have a problem in this ZIP code. It’s what are we doing about it that will take that orange to light orange in a year or two.”

Strothman heads up the Beechmont Neighborhood Association’s safe neighborhood program, and organized a peace walk earlier this year through the neighborhood with local beat officers. In March, residents gathered at a gazebo in the park for popcorn and coffee.

He said he doesn’t necessarily think these events have a direct effect on the number of people who buy and use drugs in the neighborhood. But at the very least, it’s a different picture he wants to paint of residents. Beechmont can mean high drug use, but also community and hope.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.