As drug use continues to rise in Grayson County, local mental health center Communicare has partnered with local law enforcement and health care agencies to fight back.

In December of 2016, Communicare started a program to train regional first responders on the use of Narcan, a spray that counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose, and, to date, 90 percent of police and EMS in the region have participated in the initiative.

Despite this new weapon in first responders' arsenal, the battle against drug use has been slow going. From 2016 through 2017, officials saw an increase in overdoses and overdose deaths, including 28 drug overdose deaths in Grayson County in 2017 alone.

Additionally, the Kentucky State Police reports that the number of recorded drug/narcotic offenses in Grayson County increased from 295 in 2016 to 450 in 2017.

Part of the issue is that drug abuse often starts by accident.

Grayson County Public Health Director Mindy Renfrow said that innocent people who receive pain medication for a medical issue often use all of the pills prescribed to them and find themselves addicted, eventually moving on to something else to get their fix.

According to the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System (KASPER), in 2016, there were 1,751,568 individual doses of hydrocodone - a prescription controlled substance for pain relief - given out in Grayson County, Renfrow said.

Though officials say hydrocodone has since been limited, in KASPER's first quarter 2018 trend report, hydrocodone topped the list of most "Prescribed Controlled Substances by Therapeutic Category by Doses" at 28 percent. The second highest was gabapentin at 26 percent.

Additionally, according to Communicare Prevention Specialist Thad Storms, 40 percent of overdoses in the state of Kentucky were related to the use of fentanyl, another prescription controlled substance intended for pain relief.

Storms said it is not uncommon to see overdoses escalate when a "bad batch" of a drug, such as heroin laced with fentanyl, circulates through the area.

Opioids remain a top concern for officials, but other narcotics continue to be an issue, particularly methamphetamine. Among youth, synthetic drugs, e-cigarettes, and jewel devices are popular because they are easy to obtain and also easy to hide; they also contain a great deal of nicotine, Storms said.

Addiction derives from many sources, and, in addition to deriving from prescription controlled substances, it can often stem from a need to cope with some kind of trauma, such as one that occurred in childhood. Individuals unable to deal with issues on their own may turn to drugs and/or alcohol in an effort cope with them, according to Storms.

"Substance abuse ruins families and affects people's lives all around those using," said Storms.

To those wishing to curb an addiction and seek help, Storms said, there are numerous support groups and programs available to them. Many local churches host addiction support groups, and clinical treatment is also an option that can vary in how intensive it will be depending on the severity of condition.

The Grayson County Health Department's proposed harm reduction/needle exchange program also would seek to provide aid to drug abusers by providing mental health counseling, as well as options for full, in-patient rehabilitative treatment, should the program receive approval from city and county government.

According to Storms, a local needle exchange program would likely affect many more people in Grayson County than some might think because, even though heroin is not as prevalent in Grayson County, many individuals who use a syringe exchange are admitted methamphetamine users.

Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center has also joined the fight against drug addiction with the opening of its medical stabilization program to assist individuals with symptoms of acute medical withdrawals. To speak with an admissions specialist, call 270-200-4477, or, for more information, visit www.tlrmc.com.

For additional information about services offered to those seeking rehabilitation from addiction, contact the Grayson County Health Department at 270-259-3141.