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What You Need to Know About the Opioid Epidemic in Kentucky

This blog was originally published in February 2019 and updated in December 2022 to reflect current data and information.

The opioid epidemic continues to afflict people and families in Kentucky and throughout the nation. What began as widespread overprescription and misuse of pain-relieving medications has led to a public health emergency due to the increasing rates of addiction.

What makes the misuse (and overuse) of opioids a crisis we cannot ignore? Take a look at the statistics:



While the statistics are harrowing, there is hope to reverse the opioid trend with the support systems and treatments available today.  

What is the Opioid Crisis? 

Opioids affect the brain receptors in the nervous system, which regulate pain throughout the body through the central and peripheral nervous systems. Opiates derive from a type of poppy plant that contributes natural chemicals in the manufacturing of morphine, heroin, Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin.

While the exact causes of the opioid epidemic are many, the crisis began when pharmaceutical companies began aggressively marketing pain medications in the 1990s. This marketing included the false claim that opioid use by patients in pain could not lead to addiction. The over-prescription of opioids by misled physicians sparked the first wave of the opioid epidemic. 

As practitioners began limiting the prescription of opioids, the second wave of the opioid epidemic started with the use of heroin. Later in 2013, the use of especially dangerous synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, contributed to the worsening opioid crisis.

In 2020, 2.7 million people ages 12 or over struggled with opioid use disorder.

Taylor Breeding, LCSW, MSW

“We have to think of this addiction as a disease,” says KVC Kentucky Director of Clinical Services Taylor Breeding. “There’s not necessarily an immediate cure. That’s why it will continue to impact our state and our families.” 

Addiction does not discriminate, and overdose deaths impact people of every racial demographic and age. Additionally, drug overdose can lead to increases in the number of children and teens in foster care. In some cases, parents may have died from an overdose and children are placed in foster care if extended family members are unavailable to care for them. Even in non-lethal cases, parents suffering from addiction may find it increasingly challenging to care for their children. 

What are We Doing to Fight the Opioid Epidemic?

Organizations of all sizes, from the federal government to local services, are working to fight the opioid epidemic. These efforts include prescription drug monitoring, treatment availability and more. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is leading the way by working toward more effective services, accurate data, effective low-dose and non-opioid pain solutions, overdose-reversing drug distribution, and increased funding for addiction prevention research.

The State of Kentucky has made a tremendous effort to fight the opioid epidemic by offering quick access to treatment and peer support networks, as well as community recovery programs.

KVC has supported those in opioid addiction for years using a trauma-informed approach. 

In some areas, KVC has integrated evidence-based approaches to addiction with its in-home, community-based, wraparound and family-based services. This life-changing treatment can be a powerful strategy for fighting the opioid epidemic.

What is the KSTEP Program?

KSTEP, or The Kentucky Strengthening Ties and Empowering Parents Program, began as part of Kentucky’s opioid response effort to support children and families involved in the child welfare system. This evidence-informed, in-home service model has proven effective by eliminating barriers associated with traditional office settings.

In-home, wraparound services have been shown to be effective models for providing support to families in crisis and preventing removals to out-of-home care. Providers are able to more adequately address personal family needs in the home while teaching important skills and determining what additional services are needed to support longterm recovery.

KSTEP serves to increase case coordination services and partnerships with the family and allows for rapid access to clinical services, such as substance use treatment. KSTEP services are a collaboration between the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) and KVC Kentucky, made possible through state and federal funding.

This helps improve access to opioid misuse treatment.

“When I first began in the field, there weren’t funds for services like these,” reports KSTEP Director David Synder. “Now there is. Making these programs readily available is really helpful.”

How You Can Help

Although the opioid epidemic is a complex public health emergency, there are things that you can do right now to help those who have been affected. Experts acknowledge that drastically reducing the prevalence of Opioid Use Disorder will require concerted and coordinated efforts, including more funding, regulation and education. 

  • Are you or someone you know suffering from opioid addiction? KVC offers outpatient and intensive outpatient programs, Adolescent Substance Use Treatment for youth, behavioral health services, and case management to support those in need.
  • Advocate for programs and policies that promote drug education, appropriate prescriptions, and solutions for prevention, treatment and recovery. Be aware of upcoming initiatives that may need your support to come to fruition.
  • Join the KVC team and provide direct services to the community. KVC Kentucky is always hiring compassionate and dedicated professionals. We are a private, nonprofit organization that provides in-home behavioral healthcare, youth substance use treatment and in-home family preservation and reunification services to strengthen families. Click here to find employment opportunities near you.


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