Heroin: Northern Kentucky's first methadone clinic opens in Covington

COVINGTON, Ky. - The path a heroin addict travels is difficult, and thanks to often limited resources, an uphill battle.

The problem is particularly difficult in Northern Kentucky. Local officials say the state is millions of dollars short of where it needs to be to properly address the area’s growing problem with addiction.

That is the reality for people struggling through the recovery process. One such person is 28-year-old Chris Hamblin.

In addition to the physical issues he endures as a result of his addiction, the lack of local resources has him driving 35 miles a day to Indiana to seek help.

That reality changed a bit Thursday when a new medical center in Covington opened its doors for the first time.

The NKY Med Clinic at 1717 Madison Ave. is the Northern Kentucky area’s first full-service substance-abuse treatment center, the first to provide methadone therapy. There are 12 methadone clinics in the state.

“Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT) has been proven to be the most successful treatment for opiate addiction,” according to the clinic’s website. “Methadone Maintenance Treatment for opiate addiction at NKY Med Clinic is supported with a full complement of substance abuse and life-skills counseling as well as supervised medical care.”

Methadone and Suboxone help block euphoric effects of the drugs, curb the patient’s cravings and help manage withdrawal symptoms. Suboxone is a prescribed medication taken at home by the patient.

Executive Director Jessica Allender said the facility had a “busy opening day."

"The need for treatment services in Northern Kentucky is great. The need for different types of treatment services is great,” she said.

The new facility isn’t the only treatment option in Northern Kentucky. But the problem is places like Transitions Inc., which has eight regional locations, are overwhelmed with people in need of services.

Officials with the clinic said their waiting list extends into 2014.

The number of heroin users in Kentucky is up over the past two years. Mac MacArthur said overdoses have increased 550 percent statewide during that period.

McArthur, who works with Transitions, said there are no hard numbers for Northern Kentucky yet. But based on estimates from national data, the number is alarmingly high according to local officials.

"Using the national statistics and the state guestimates, they're saying 28,000 people in Northern Kentucky," he said.

In addition to the physical toll using drugs takes on the body of the person using them, drug use also impacts the communities in which the users live. For instance, drug-related crime continues climb in Northern Kentucky.

Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders says between 80 and 90 percent of the crimes coming through his office are drug related.

While it’s a daunting task, health care officials believe clinics like the one that opened in Covington on Thursday will help combat the problem.

For Hamblin, though, the best solution is to find ways to keep people from using in the first place. He hopes he can be an example, even if it’s the worst kind of example.

"Stay away from it. It's the devil, for real," he said.

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You can find out more about the clinic at its website:  www.nkymed.com

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