State officials, healthcare professionals, law enforcement and first responders were among 400 people gathering Tuesday for Kentucky’s second annual harm reduction summit. The northern Kentucky event focused on substance abuse prevention and recovery.
State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey Howard said the summit focused on rebranding harm reduction strategies to reduce negative consequences associated with drug use in the state. Howard said, previously, harm reduction discussions took a back seat to talk about needle exchange programs.
He said,“It’s about addressing people’s needs where they’re at and meeting them where they’re at. It’s about using that as an opportunity to get these people linked to care. To test for and treat the infectious complications of substance abuse which include HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis A, provide vaccinations and preventative medicine opportunities.”
According to Dr. Howard, Kentucky is seen as a national leader in harm reduction efforts. He said summit participants shared their best practices and lessons learned in hopes of ensuring the most evidence based practices are present in Kentucky’s communities when it comes to addressing infectious complications and negative effects of substance abuse.
Keynote speaker Austin Eubanks was one of the students injured in the 1999 Columbine High School Shooting. He was shot twice and witnessed the murder of his best friend. After being put on medication for his physical pain, he found himself turning to substances to medicate the underlying emotional symptoms. He said harm reduction is intended to help navigate an addiction pandemic in this country.
Eubanks said,“I think the biggest piece is changing the way that we talk about addiction. It is still so incredibly stigmatized. And we know in health care that the way to treat any disease and promote outcomes is through early detection, early intervention and prevention.”
Eubanks noted the most important message is to come together and work on improving the quality of life for people with substance abuse addiction. He said people need to understand harm reduction can be a real thing for those affected. Eubanks’ goal is to spark a dialogue with people who have the ability to help make a change.