A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Desiree Powell: Those who profit from fueling nation’s opioid epidemic must be held accountable


As a substance use disorder survivor, I know the importance of speaking out about the struggles and realities of addiction that are often kept behind closed doors. I also know how important it is to not feel alone, to recognize that others – elected officials, community leaders, employers – can and will help. Because allowing a person like me to walk through a door that was once closed can make all the difference in beating addiction.

Kentucky has made progress in recent years to fight substance use disorder, but COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the lives of many who unfortunately turned to addiction to find false relief.

Thankfully, our elected officials are hearing the plea for help. In 2021, Kentucky’s General Assembly passed several pieces of legislation that will help transform how our state approaches criminal justice reform in dealing with substance use disorder. Bills about recovery-ready communities, juvenile justice reforms, and felony theft threshold changes will get more Kentuckians back on the path to living productive lives.

You may have seen recently that 49 state attorneys general, including Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, announced a settlement regarding the opioid crisis. I am grateful those at fault can no longer hide behind closed doors; Kentuckians in desperate need of relief from substance use disorder will benefit from this settlement.

Because of this much-needed lawsuit in the fight against the opioid crisis, Kentucky will receive a small portion ($8 million) of the $600 million national settlement from a globally known consulting firm, McKinsey & Company. Despite their knowledge of the extreme harm opioids were causing, McKinsey finagled a way — behind closed doors — to help their clients evade FDA regulations leading to a rapid rise of addiction-related deaths in our state and nation.

While serving time because of my addiction, I met a number of other addicts. In many cases, they weren’t aware of the help out there to assist in recovery. They weren’t aware there were ways out – that they didn’t have to stay behind closed doors chained to addiction.

While we cannot put a price tag on the lives lost to addiction, McKinsey’s settlement does just that, and it, unfortunately, adds up to less than $3,000 per life lost in America.

This tells me that we need to do more. We need to continue to hold those who profit off of addiction accountable in meaningful ways. And we need more education, awareness, and treatment to help those struggling with substance use disorder.

While I am on the “other side” of my struggle, so-to-speak, too many Kentuckians are not.

Behind closed doors, the opioid epidemic, is still wreaking havoc throughout the Commonwealth. Behind closed doors, addiction is taking the lives of Kentuckians. Behind closed doors, substance use disorders are ripping Bluegrass families apart.

Not everyone is as fortunate as me to find and successfully benefit from the help I so badly needed. But I couldn’t have done it alone. Without the guidance and support of a number of individuals and organizations, I may not be here today.

It is so important that we all work together to continuously enact meaningful changes that put an end to substance use disorder — and that we do so now.

Desiree Powell is a Kentuckian in recovery from substance use disorder. She resides in Bowling Green and works at Rivendell Behavioral Health Services of Kentucky.


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One Comment

  1. Vicktor Youngblood says:

    I would like nothing more than to win a settlement with a pharmaceutical company so I can use the money to help my son whose whereabouts are currently unknown. I think about him every day and the constant worrying is taking a toll on my mental health. Occasionally I hear him call out to me, as if he was right outside, but he never is.

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