Inside Kentucky Health

More than 200 people gathered for a conference hosted by The Healing Place that was focused on finding ways to reverse the epidemic of drug abuse.
More than 200 people gathered for a conference hosted by The Healing Place that was focused on finding ways to reverse the epidemic of drug abuse.

Heroin addiction is a problem that has exploded in Kentucky over the past several years.

Three years ago, barely 1 in 100 people who came to The Healing Place detox facilities for help were there because of a heroin addiction. Today, that number is 95 percent.


In that same time period, heroin arrests in Jefferson County have increased by 700 percent, prompting the launch of a “rocket docket” that serves to get addicts into treatment more quickly.

Still, despite the efforts of social services agencies and law enforcement officials, the epidemic continues to grow. That’s why The Healing Place helped organize a recent event to bring together people representing social services agencies, law enforcement, the courts, and much more to address the issues and find solutions to the problem.

The conference, “Heroin: About Face. Reversing an Epidemic,” featured a series of speeches and discussions on the topic. In attendance were professionals from the medical, social work, and law enforcement communities who are leading the fight against heroin abuse.

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Tara Conner, the 2006 Miss USA from Russell Springs, Ky, shared her story of addiction and recovery during the event. Photo by Linda Doane/Linda Doane Photography

The keynote speaker was Tara Conner, the 2006 Miss USA from Russell Springs, who told her story of addiction that started at a very young age and eventually led to her treatment and life of recovery.

Conner nearly lost her crown after a series of embarrassing public incidents, but was told by Donald Trump that she could complete her reign if she agreed to get treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. She said she started her struggle with addiction at age 14.

“I was grateful that I was sent to treatment because I didn’t know that addiction was a disease, I didn’t know what recovery looked like,” she said. “Since that experience I immediately became an advocate. I was chucked into rehab by someone else, and if that hadn’t happened I might be dead.”

Today, she is working to raise awareness of addiction through events like the one in Louisville. It marked the first time in her eight years of sobriety that she spoke in her home state. Conner, who lives in Los Angeles, is pursuing a career in show business and has appeared on several television shows.

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Mike O’Connell spoke on the family impact. Photo by Linda Doane/Linda Doane Photography

Among the other speakers were Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, who lost a son to a heroin overdose in 2014; Dr. Greg Jones, medical director of the Kentucky Physicians Health Foundation; and Geoff Wilson, a licensed clinical social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor.

The epidemic is straining the resources of The Healing Place, which must turn away up to 30 men seeking detox every day. A $25 million capital campaign is under way to expand its men’s campus.

Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad told attendees that his officers have confiscated more than 50 pounds of heroin this year.

In Kentucky, the legislature addressed the issue earlier this year, passing a “heroin bill” that included the state’s first-ever needle-exchange program; increased access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose; and enacted a Good Samaritan Law, allowing someone to seek medical help for overdose victims without fear of facing charges themselves.

The symposium helped start discussions that may help in the fight against the addiction. Karyn Hascal, president of The Healing Place, vowed that it won’t be the last event of its type.

“Because of the success of the Symposium, we are looking forward to facilitating an annual Autumn Addiction Symposium,” she said. “We are excited to be able to offer a forum for conversation in our community about our community.”

Health Reports
Passport Health Plan is a provider-sponsored, non-profit, community-based health plan administering Medicaid benefits to more than 310,000 Kentuckians. Passport has been contracted with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to administer Medicaid benefits since 1997. For more information, call (800) 578-0603 or go online to