In recent years, Kentucky has seen a surge of heroin addiction— a situation created in part by a legislative crackdown on prescription drug abuse.
Now, hundreds are dying from heroin overdoses, many of them in the northern Kentucky counties around Cincinnati.
Louisville has also been hit hard, and resources are strained, a situation on display at two institutions that are dealing with a flood of heroin cases.
In fact, Louisville is home to the largest drug detox facility in the region. It’s not a traditional treatment center—it’s Louisville Metro Corrections.
It’s not unusual for one hundred or more drug addicts to be brought to the jail on a given day, most of them arrested for possession or other low-level offenses related to their habit.
These days, most are addicted to heroin. Some won’t be incarcerated long enough to fully detox. Within 48 hours they’re are back on the streets, often engaging in crimes to support their habit.
“In many cases we see a lot of the same individuals over again, they come and go,” said Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton.
“And part of that we think is there is just not readily available access to treatment, there is not readily available access to detox. A person has to detox before they get into treatment, and most don’t have insurance.”
But for those who find themselves serving an extended period of time at Metro Corrections, there is help available in house.
Eligible offenders can detox and participate in a treatment program for the duration of their sentence.
A group of about two dozen women who are in various stages of recovery are living in a second floor dormitory. Most were heroin users. The program is called Enough is Enough.
“Of course, getting arrested is not anything good for anybody,” said Mane Martirosyan, the counselor for the women.
We’ll discuss Kentucky’s heroin epidemic in much more detail during a live news special at 1 p.m. Wednesday on 89.3 WFPL.
“But a majority of the ladies at some point start to recognize that they are thankful that they got arrested. Otherwise they would still be in the streets using but now they’re doing something good.”
The walls of the women’s dorm are covered with artwork and other mementos to help them on their journey to sober living.
The participants said they’re eager to get their lives back on track. It’s a difficult adjustment but they’re grateful for the opportunity, they say.
The Metro Corrections drug treatment program is modeled on the peer system used by the Healing Place, the Louisville facility where alcoholics and drug addicts who are far enough along in their recovery help new clients with detox and treatment.
About 95 percent of the beds at the Healing Place campuses are occupied by heroin addicts.
Just five years ago, that number was five percent. That’s led the General Assembly to consider ways to address surge in heroin use.
Healing Place President Karyn Hascal said the heroin explosion and its impact on community resources has led to the decision to expand the center’s men’s campus, which will triple the size of its detox unit.
The Healing Place has launched a $20 million capital campaign to fund the expansion. Hascal said they’re aiming for a spring groundbreaking.
“We really can’t keep a waiting list because it’s a lie,” said Hascal, whose organizaton does not charge its clients.
It’s so long that our concern is that people won’t live long enough to come back, to be called in on a waiting list.”