Statistics via Jefferson County Coroner’s office, map designed by Pat Smith of the Civic Data Alliance

State Representatives McKenzie Cantrell and Joni Jenkins have convened a new task force to combat the opioid epidemic devastating the south Louisville districts they represent, where more residents died from accidental drug overdoses in 2017 than anywhere else in the city.

The task force created by the Democratic legislators includes individuals from addiction treatment providers, law enforcement and the city’s health department, who will study the opioid abuse epidemic in south Louisville and “develop recommendations to state and local government and the community at large,” according to their news release.

Jenkins told Insider Louisville last week that she and Cantrell began working on what would become the task force after being alarmed by an Insider report in March, which cited Jefferson County Coroner records showing that the south and southwest Louisville ZIP codes they represented were the epicenter of the city’s crisis.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-44 | Photo via Legislative Research Commission

The 40215 ZIP code stretching south from Churchill Downs to the Beechmont neighborhood — in Cantrell’s district — had the highest number of accidental overdose deaths last year with 51, in addition the highest number of residents per capita with a fatal overdose.

The ZIP code of Jenkins’ district just to its west — 40216, stretching south from Shively to Lower Hunters Trace — had 30 residents die of such an overdose in 2017, the most in the city.

Another Insider report from 2017 found that these same ZIP codes — as well as 40214, another area of Cantrell’s district covering Beechmont to Iroquois Park — topped all others in the city when it came to the numbers of patients who were administered naloxone by first responders on overdose runs. Naloxone is the drug that can revive the victims of an opioid overdose.

The coroner records show that nearly 400 in Louisville died of an accidental drug overdose in 2017, a record high and an 87 percent increase from just two years earlier. Toxicology reports show that 87 percent of such victims had at least one kind of opioid in their system, while 64 percent contained fentanyl — an opioid at least 50 times more powerful than heroin that was nearly unheard of just a few years earlier.

Jenkins, who has sponsored a number of heroin-related bills since her own nephew died of an overdose in 2013, stated in the release that while the Kentucky General Assembly had made some positive changes in recent years, “it’s only a start.”

“We have a long way to go in finding real solutions that will save lives and appropriately address this epidemic,” state Jenkins. “I am so grateful to these professionals who are willing to give of their time to help us find answers.”

Cantrell stated that the task force would meet throughout the rest of this year “to identify gaps in resources and state law and develop community responses.”

“We have all been affected by drug abuse, and bringing in expertise to look at this issue in our own South Louisville neighborhoods is the appropriate next step in combatting crime and other costs to our community,” stated Cantrell. “My goal is to provide information and support for families, education for our community and concrete legislative proposals for Metro Council and the General Assembly.”

The first meeting of the South Louisville Task Force on Opioids will be Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Lynnhurst Church of Christ, where the city health department’s director of addiction services, Wayne Crabtree, will present the two-year strategic plan to address substance abuse that was released by the administration of Mayor Greg Fischer in March.

Here is a list of the members of the new task force:

  • Mike Barry, CEO of People Advocating Recovery
  • District Judge Stephanie Burke, who runs a specialty drug court
  • LMPD Assistant Chief LaVita Chavous
  • Wayne Crabtree, director of Addiction Services, Louisville Metro Department of Public Health
  • Amanda Hall, ACLU of Kentucky
  • Rev. Jim Harper, pastor of St. Stephens United Church of Christ in Shively
  • Scott Hesseltine, vice president of Addiction Services at Centerstone Kentucky
  • Vince Jarboe, president of the Southwest Dream Team and business owner
  • Captain Brian O’Neill of the Louisville Metro Fire Department
  • Tamara Reif, senior director of Housing, Homeless, and HIV at Volunteers of America
  • Dr. Lisa Willner, executive director of the Kentucky Psychology Association, JCPS board member
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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]