A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Andy Beshear: From coffee grounds to opioid disposal pouches, Kyians join fight against addiction

Over the years, you have heard me say that in order to tackle our state’s opioid epidemic, it’s going to take all of us coming together as a community. That everyone has a role in building a better future.

Andy Beshear

One of my efforts to build that future is the Kentucky Opioid Disposal Program, which provides drug deactivation pouches to help Kentucky families safely dispose of the dangerous unused medications sitting in their medicine cabinets.

I can proudly say that in the last year we have grown the program’s reach to more and more Kentuckians thanks to tireless efforts of our partners, including local law enforcement, nonprofits, churches, senior citizens centers, governments and schools.

There is no better example of the true dedication of our partners than that of the Johnson County School District, especially the students of the Johnson County Middle School Community Problem Solving (CmPS) team.

 The program is called Hand in Hand, and the students are including our disposal packets in the diaper bags they are giving mothers who participate in drug treatment programs at the Mountain Comprehensive Community of Hope and Serenity House. Including the pouches allows these mothers to ensure the homes they are returning to are safe and drug-free.

In addition, they are passing out the disposal packets to individuals who participate in Celebrate Recovery at the Inez Free Will Baptist Church. Individuals who attend Celebrate Recovery are enrolled in substance use recovery programs from Lawrence, Johnson and Martin counties.

According to Pam Burton, JCMS CmPS academic coach, students learned that some of these recovery programs had been using coffee grounds to dispose of drugs.

Every time the team sets up a display, they distribute the opioid disposal packets to those attending the presentations such as the one at the Pikeville Conference Center this past spring.

Burton said that this fall the CmPS team would continue to hand out the packets as “they work to increase awareness about the dangers of opioid use on families with members who suffer from substance abuse disorder.”

In fact, the efforts by these students to help their communities garnered them an international title as part of an opioid awareness competition. The students recently competed in Wisconsin against schools not only from the United States, but also from Australia, Singapore, Canterbury and New South Wales.

In Henderson County, the sheriff and local partners have already distributed 6,500 pouches and are working hard to get the other 3,500 of their 10,000 pouches supplied by my office out to the community. There are numerous new partners in Henderson, including the Henderson Police Department, local health department, T&T Pharmacy, local hospice and the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice.

Communities like Johnson and Henderson counties and others around the state know that hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians are sick.

They are suffering from addiction, and the number of our neighbors who are suffering grows every day.

For many, their addiction did not start with the purchase of a street drug.

It started in their medicine cabinet.

Prescription drug abuse is how an overwhelming 80 percent of heroin users begin their addiction. Misusing prescription drugs often starts when a person has access to an unused supply from a friend or relative’s medicine cabinet.

Yet for years, the only programs to dispose of these dangerous, addictive drugs have required people to travel sometimes dozens of miles to drop them into bins at sheriffs’ offices. The result is millions of pills remain in our households, putting the safety of our homes and our children at risk.

Through our Kentucky Opioid Disposal Program, we are distributing tens of thousands of pouches across Kentucky. The pouches are providing the first means for Kentuckians to safely dispose of unused medications in their homes in an environmentally friendly manner, instead of having to use coffee grounds.

In total, the program has the potential to eliminate more than 2.2 million opioids across Kentucky. Our drug epidemic is the challenge of our times. It is killing our youth and preventing job growth.

But the Kentucky Opioid Disposal Program should give us hope.

If we can clean out every Kentucky medicine cabinet, we will reduce the supply that drives new addiction. That gives us the chance at the better tomorrow that we all seek.

Andy Beshear is Kentucky’s Attorney General.

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