U.S. attorney general hears from Central Ky. families of overdose victims, who offer suggestions on what needs to be done

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch attended events in Lexington and Richmond this week as part of the first national Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In Lexingon, families who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses shared their stories with Lynch: stories about lying awake at night wondering if their addicted son would make it home, stories of desperation in the search for treatment, stories about the difficulties in paying for treatment and stories about the death of their loved ones.

“We cry every day,” said David Greene of Lexington, whose son Domonique, 23, died of a heroin overdose last October, leaving behind a baby daughter.

Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky rose to a record 1,248 in 2015, compared with 1,088 in 2014, according to the latest annual report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

Members of the group USA HEAT, which stands for U.S. Attorney’s Heroin Education Action Team, met Lynch in Lexington at the office of U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, whose office helped to set up the group.

The group was created to help members share their stories to increase understanding of heroin and painkiller abuse, and have since presented “to more than 2,500 people at schools, churches and other locations, including the federal prison in Manchester,” Estep reports.

In addition to their personal stories, members of the group told Lynch what they thought was needed to fix the problem, including more efforts to educate parents about the issue; “more effective prevention education for young people; better ways for families to find treatment resources; treatment that lasts long enough; quick access to treatment in the moments of clarity when addicts reach for help; and more affordable treatment options,” Estep writes.

Harvey told Estep that he was not aware of a similar program in any other U.S. attorney’s office, and his office told Estep that Lynch mentioned trying to replicate it.

“Their stories were devastating, but their resolve to spare other parents the same fate is inspiring,” Lynch said at the University of Kentucky.

Before meeting with the USA HEAT members, Lynch was part of a discussion about heroin and opioid abuse at Madison Central High School, where about 500 students from Madison Central, Madison Southern and Richmond Model Laboratory high schools attended.

“Dozens raised their hands when Lynch asked how many knew someone who had overdosed. Far fewer raised their hands when she asked how many people had survived,” Estep writes.

Alex Elswick, who is in long-term recovery from addiction to heroin and pain pills, told the students he got hooked after he had his wisdom teeth removed and received pain pills, Estep reports. “You don’t know what you’re in for” when using drugs, he warned them.

Kayla Greene told students to not use any drugs, even marijuana, saying that her son used marijuana but eventually moved to pills and heroin.

Lynch told one student who asked what to do if they had a friend with a drug problem to tell a trusted adult about it. “You’ve gotta get in between your friend and that problem,” she said.

At UK, Lynch announced $8.8 million to improve state prescription monitoring systems, including Kentucky’s system.

President Barack Obama has called for $1.1 billion in new federal spending to fight opioid abuse, with a large part of it going to make medication-assisted treatment more widely available. “The administration estimated in June that Kentucky would get up to $18 million over two years to boost access to treatment for opioid abuse if Congress approves Obama’s budget request.”

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