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Emergency Agencies Briefed On Opioid Crisis

Josh James
Emergency medicine expert Dr. Ryan Stanton gives a presentation on the state's opioid crisis at the Region 15 Healthcare Coalition annual disaster preparedness event.

Kentucky’s emergency management agencies normally focus on natural disasters like tornadoes and floods, but Thursday they're getting up to speed on another kind of emergency: the state’s drug epidemic.

For the past few years, a group of healthcare and emergency experts from 17 counties known as Region 15 has gathered in Lexington to network and take inventory of their assets – from triage tents to animal rescue units. This year, they’re turning their attention to a disaster that’s playing out over years rather than hours and minutes.

Emergency medicine physician Dr. Ryan Stanton says the drug epidemic is "probably, if you want to consider it, definitely the largest disaster that we've dealt with in this region for quite some time."

Stanton says it’s important to think beyond the obvious when addressing a crisis of this scope.

"People think about opioids and they think about substance abuse, but what you don't think about is this huge spike of other medical issues we're going to have with Hepatitis B, C, and HIV, as well as endocarditis, abscesses, skin infections, things like that," he notes. 

According to a recent Kentucky Department for Public Health report, the commonwealth led the nation in new acute Hep C infections alone between 2008 and 2015.

And when it comes time to test for and treat those conditions, emergency vehicles can be pulled into service – especially in remote, hard-to-reach parts of the state, where Stanton says the need is often the most pressing.

Nationwide, The Centers for Disease Control estimates that Hep C cases jumped by almost 300 percent from 2010 to 2015.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.