Sunday, June 30, 2024

Some Ky. counties using settlement money to make new opioid-withdrawal treatment available to a small number of residents

The device uses low-intensity electrical pulses to reduce
withdrawal symptoms. (WDRB photo, from NET Recovery Corp.)
This story has been updated.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

four Kentucky counties are making a new treatment to reduce opioid-withdrawal symptoms available free to a few of their residents, using money from the state's settlements with drug manufacturers and distributors.

Three more counties are in the queue, and others are in discussion. Counties and most Kentucky cities get half the settlement money, more than $900 million over the next 15 years.

Meade, Scott, Bullitt and Franklin counties have committed settlement money for the treatment of limited numbers of residents with opioid-use disorder. Letcher and Shelby counties are in the process of final approval, and Bell County is in discussions with NET Recovery Corp.

The company is named for the "neuro-electric therapy" that its non-invasive "NET Device" delivers. Asked about the device's success rate, company spokesman Jeff Lott said, "A person treated with the NET Device for more than one day is significantly more likely to remain opioid-free without medication."

The amount of money committed to NET Recovery for treatment from each county varies. 

Company spokesman Jeff Lott said since the NET Device gained U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, the cost for a treatment is $5,500. He said in an email that some counties received a discount if they started negotiations before FDA approval. 

"If we had already started negotiations with an amount for less than $5,500, we are still honoring that price for the first contract," Lott said. 

In Bullitt County, CFO and Community Development Director Keith Griffee said the county has signed a service contract for $50,000 to provide treatment services for 15 residents, or $3,333 per person.

The same per-person figure applies in Meade County, where Treasurer Tammy Graham said the county had allocated $60,000 of its opioid-abatement money for services to 18 residents.

Scott County Court Clerk Stacy Hamilton said Scott County had approved $110,000 for 34 residents. That amounts to $3,235 per person.

Franklin County's $75,000 contract is for 15 patients at $5,000 each, The State Journal reports.  

Lott said Shelby County plans to vote on its contract Tuesday, July 2. He said the county is looking to commit $100,000 to the program. He did not say how many residents this contract would serve. 

He said Franklin County had voted to approve a service agreement for $75,000 to cover 15 patients, but the contract has not been signed. That amounts to $5,000 per person.

Lott said NET Recovery is still in talks with Letcher County, which had backed out of its initial $125,000 contract with NET Recovery.  Lott said the two-year contracts allow either party to terminate the contract. 

"It is my understanding that they still want to participate for a lesser amount," Lott said.

He said the company is working to get other counties "to help their people get a brand new FDA-cleared treatment that can change the lives of their residents."

"We are counting on the counties to help fund this," Lott said. "If anyone has a question about how they can get their county to sponsor it, they can email me. I'd love to talk them through it." (His email address is

Isaiah House lauds NET Device

The neuro-electric therapy to reduce withdrawal symptoms will be offered exclusively through Isaiah House, a Christian-based rehabilitation center based in Harrodsburg.

The NET Device (Photo from company website)
Mike Cox, chief operating officer of Isaiah House, said the treatment involves taping tiny electrodes behind the participant's mastoid process, behind the ear, to deliver a carefully programmed series of tiny electrical pulses that stimulate the production of the body's natural neurotransmitters, such as endorphins.

"We know that those neurotransmitters become depleted and replaced by the drug" chosen by those with opioid-use disorder, Cox said. "When a person tries to stop taking the drug, then he or she begins to experience intense cravings and the body goes into withdrawal. It is that terrible experience of intense cravings, that horrible sickness that keeps people from stopping using the substance that keeps them using. Not for the euphoria of it, but just to survive." 

He said they will have 30 reusable units on hand for the treatment, which lasts five to seven days.

While the device will be helpful, Cox said, it is not the single solution. 

"We see it as a tool to help them on the front end of treatment," he said. "This device is a new tool in the toolbox to really help people overcome the fear and experience of being sick from withdrawal and the intense cravings, which are . . . really the reasons why many people are afraid to get treatment." 

According to state data, in 2023, nearly 80% of Kentucky's overdose deaths involved opioids.

Medications are available to treat opioid-use disorder, but Cox noted that many people use more than one substance. And while the clinical trial of the NET Device focused on opiates, he said it also helps with the withdrawal symptoms of other drugs, from nicotine to methamphetamine.

"We know the device to be effective for all drugs," Cox said. "They have specific programming for each type of drug, which makes this device unique. . . . The additional upside to this device over medications is that it addresses the concerns of abuse and diversion."

Later, he said, "We have witnessed, really the positive impact of this device on a lot of people without any negative side effects. And, FDA approval is further evidence of the efficacy of this device in reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms."

Cox said Isaiah House will only be paid a "small amount" for the additional work required by his staff to offer the therapy.

Who qualifies for it? 

Cox said participants will be considered for the NET Device on a case-by-case basis. "We just want to help people," he said.

Because insurance does not pay for the treatment, Lott said, "At this time, we're only focusing on treating people from counties who have paid for it or anyone can choose to pay and be treated." 

Bullitt County's contract says the participant must be diagnosed with opioid-use disorder, be admitted on a separately paid basis into a participating service program with a residential drug-addiction treatment facility, be a resident of the contracted county, and meet the clinical eligibility for the treatment, including a desire to participate in the program. 

Lott added that a participant must also be 18, and cannot be pregnant or have a pacemaker.

Cox said Isaiah House is starting the program in one of its men's facilities in Washington County and one of its women's facilities in Mercer County. Eventually, he said the treatment would be offered at all of their residential facilities.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Louisville Circuit Judge Brian Edwards rejects Jewish women's religious challenge to Kentucky's near-total ban on abortions

By Sarah Ladd
Kentucky Lantern

Jefferson Circuit Judge Brian Edwards has ruled against a lawsuit by three Jewish women challenging Kentucky’s abortion ban on religious grounds.

Circuit Judge Brian Edwards
In a nine-page opinion issued Friday night, Edwards said the women do not have standing and that their concerns are “hypothetical.” Citing several earlier cases, the judge said the issue was not yet a concrete problem and lacked “ripeness.”

“Individuals cannot manufacture standing merely by inflicting harm on themselves based on their fears of hypothetical future harm that is not certainly impending,” Edwards wrote. Therefore, “Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate the existence of a justiciable controversy as defined by generations of case law.”

The ruling came more than a month after the judge heard oral arguments, which heavily focused on in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the extent to which it overlaps with the state’s abortion ban.

One of the plaintiffs has nine frozen embryos that she’s paying thousands of dollars annually to preserve, just as Kentucky lawmakers are split on what protections exist for IVF in the state.

The women’s lawyers, Benjamin Potash and Aaron Kemper, argued that by banning most abortions, Kentucky had imposed and codified a religious viewpoint that conflicts with the Jewish belief that birth, not conception, is the beginning of life.  

Jessica Kalb, Sarah Baron and Lisa Sobel are the
plaintiffs. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd)
They also said the plaintiffs — Jessica Kalb, Sarah Baron and Lisa Sobel — feel Kentucky’s current laws around abortion inhibit their ability to grow their families.

Benjamin Potash, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, told the Lantern that the decision “makes numerous obvious errors,” such as basing part of the ruling on a reading of Roe v. Wade, which established a federal right to abortion but was overturned in 2022 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Assistant Attorney General Lindsey Keiser defended the law on May 13 for the Attorney General Russell Coleman, who praised Friday’s decision “to uphold Kentucky law.”

“Most importantly, the court eliminates any notion that access to IVF services in our commonwealth is at risk,” Coleman said in a statement. “Today’s opinion is a welcome reassurance to the many Kentuckians seeking to become parents.”

Potash said the judge’s decision is “disappointing” and said “we look forward to review by higher courts.”

“After 13 months of waiting, we received a nine-page decision that we feel fails to comport with the law,” he said. “Our nation is waiting for a judiciary brave enough to do what the law and our traditions require.”

Friday, June 28, 2024

Fireworks are fun, but they can be dangerous

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission graphic; click on it to enlarge
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

While it wouldn't feel like the Fourth of July without fireworks, it's important to remember that all fireworks, even sparklers, can be dangerous.

"The safest way to view fireworks is to watch professional displays,”  Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric said in a news release. “If you choose to light your own, make sure you only buy legal fireworks intended for consumer use from a reputable retailer."

A new CPSC report says that in 2023, the commission received reports of eight deaths and an estimated 9,700 injuries involving fireworks. Out of the eight deaths, five were associated with firework misuse, two with a device malfunction, and one involved unknown circumstances.

A CPSC analysis of the injury data found that in the four weeks leading up to and including Independence Day in 2023, teens aged 15-19 had the highest estimated rate of emergency-department visits visits for fireworks-related injuries, followed by children aged 5-9.

Of those ED visits, the analysis found that an estimated 800 of the injuries were associated with firecrackers and 700 were associated with sparklers. The report says sparklers accounted for 51% of the total estimated injuries in children under the age of 5. 

"Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks, including sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit -- hot enough to melt some metals," says the release.  

For using sparklers, here are safety tips from Michigan Medicine
  • Hold sparkler away from face.
  • Wear shoes when using sparklers.
  • Only use one sparkler at a time.
  • Stay six feet apart from others.
First-aid tips for burns, from Michigan Medicine: 
  • Be prepared to use first aid. For a minor burn, place a towel soaked in cool water over the area for about five minutes. Then cover with a clean bandage and give your child acetaminophen to reduce pain and swelling.
  • For a major burn, or if the burn involves eyes, take the child to the emergency room promptly.
Here are some overall safety tips from the Kentucky state fire marshal: 
  • Use fireworks outdoors only.
  • Obey local laws. If fireworks are not legal where you live, do not use them.
  • Always keep a bucket of water or a working water hose nearby.
  • Only use fireworks as intended. Don't try to alter them or combine them.
  • Never relight a "dud" firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
  • Use common sense. Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter and the shooter should wear safety glasses.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a "designated adult operator."
  • Do not use homemade fireworks or illegal explosives -- they can kill you!
  • Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.
  • Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks.
  • Read and follow all instructions on the label.

988 roll-out uneven, but Ky. appears to be doing 'pretty well;' last of 14 regional mental-health centers nearing certification for calls

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Even though the roll-out of the three-digit national suicide hotline remains a work in progress across the nation, Kentucky's roll-out over the past two years has gone "pretty well."

So says Steve Shannon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Regional Programs for mental health. He said Kentucky's success has largely been because of a statewide 988 coalition and its subcommittees that work toward quality outcomes and toward having all of the state's 988 calls to be answered by people inside the state.

"We appreciate the partnership with the team at the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities," he said. "The call centers have worked very closely with them and it's been a great outcome for Kentuckians." 

The 988 line connects people experiencing a mental-health or substance-use crisis with a trained counselor. Shannon said 13 of the state's 14 community mental health centers act as call centers, and that the 14th center is in the process of getting certified to meet the national 988 call center standards, which will mean that eventually 988 calls in all 120 counties can be served by their regional cengter.   

"Our goal is 100% of Kentucky calls get answered by Kentucky," he said. 

Brice Mitchell, spokesman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, also praised Kentucky's 988 roll-out, stating that the centers have used federal grants to increase workforce capacity by hiring staff and utilizing volunteers. 

"These efforts have ensured calls to 988 are most often answered at the local level, 84% in May," Mitchell said in an email. "Additionally, the current in-state answer rate of 25 seconds steadily remains faster than the national average of 36 seconds, and we know every second is critical when it comes to getting someone connected to help."

Asked about the 379 abandoned in-state calls that were reported in May, Mitchell said, "We are not able to determine why calls may be abandoned; one reason could be due to internet or cell phone instability." 

Since May 2023, the state has seen a 40% increase in calls from Kentuckians to 988 and a 53% increase in the number of those calls that are answered in state. Additionally, there has been a 15% increase in Kentucky’s answer rate over the past two years, according to data provided by the the cabinet. 

The federal government provided about $1 billion to launch and implement the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, with the expectation that states would establish their own funding to operate the call centers, but Axios reports that the "efforts have been uneven . . .  leading to significantly lower response times in certain states." 988 launched in July 2022. 

Axios reports that only 10 states have added a surcharge to cell-phone bills to fund 988 services, though all states fund their general-emergency 911 services in this way, according to a report from Inseparable, a mental health advocacy group. Kentucky is not one of them. 

Kentucky's General Assembly has put money in the budget for the 988 call centers since the 2022 legislative session, but "At some point, a dedicated funding mechanism that allows to accommodate for growth and calls is really necessary," Shannon said. "The appropriation is good, but the concern is, as utilization increases, those costs will increase."  He added that there have been some "preliminary conversations" about this, and the goal is to have an "ongoing, dedicated funding stream, comparable to 911."

This year, Rep. Adam Bowling, R-Middlesboro, filed HB 740 to fund 988 with a fee on special license plates, gifts, grants, contributions, appropriations or other sources. It was never heard in committee.

Another challenge is that many people still don't know about 988. The Pew Charitable Trusts released a survey last year that showed only 13% of adults in the U.S. had heard of the 988 line.

A national 988 paid marketing campaign will launch this month and run through October to help address this issue. It will also likely increase the number of calls. 

Axios reports that going forward, "States and cities are also moving toward integrated 988 and 911 services, said Kaiser Family Foundation researcher Heather Saunders, who tracks policies around the hotline. Federal regulators are also looking to require that 988 calls are routed to a person's actual location, rather than their area code, to better connect them with nearby resources." 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Ben Chandler to retire as head of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky; board names COO Allison Adams to succeed him

Ben Chandler and Allison Adams
Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky for the last eight years, announced Thursday that he would retire at year's end and be succeeded by Allison Adams, the philanthropy's chief operating officer.

“After a very thorough process, it was clear to everyone on the board that Allison was the perfect choice to be the organization’s next leader,” said Marianne Smith Edge, chair of the foundation's Board of Directors, said in a news release.

“We are excited to see what the future holds, and know the foundation will be in good hands. Allison’s experience, strategic skills, and dedication to disease prevention will be strong assets for the organization. The Board is grateful to Ben and all that he has done for the foundation over the last eight years. His vision to lead the organization into policy advocacy has resulted in many wins for the health of Kentuckians.” 

Chandler, who will turn 65 on Sept. 12, became head of the foundation in 2016, after heading the Kentucky Humanities Council. Before that he was state auditor, attorney general, the 2003 Democratic nominee for governor and U.S. representative from the Sixth Congressional District. As attorney general, he sued to recover the charitable assets of Kentucky Blue Cross Blue Shield when it was bought by Anthem Inc. The $45 million settlement was used to create the foundation in 2001. 

“It has been an incredible experience to lead the Foundation that I helped make possible during my time as an elected official,” said Chandler, of Versailles. “We have achieved things that many deemed impossible. While I am so proud of what we have accomplished these last eight years, I know there is still much to be done. I have the utmost confidence and trust in the organization’s future with Allison at helm.” 

Adams, of Maysville, was director of the Buffalo Trace District Health Department and president of the Kentucky Health Department Association, during which time she worked on legislation to transform Kentucky’s public-health system. A registered nurse, she joined the foundation in 2020 as vice president for public policy and was named chief operating Officer in January 2023.

“I am so honored and thrilled to have been chosen to take the reins of such a dedicated and respected organization,” Adams said. “It has been a privilege to work with Ben these past four years to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians. Our state still faces many health challenges, and I will not waiver in my commitment to creating a commonwealth where every single person has what they need to live a healthy life.”

Under Chandler, the foundation became more active in lobbying state government, including the legislature. The news release said, "He was a strong advocate for the historic cigarette-tax increase passed by the state General Assembly in 2018, as well as the tobacco-free school campus bill in 2019 that resulted in a large increase of school districts covered by comprehensive tobacco-free campus policies. "

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Supreme Court allows government efforts against controversial social-media posts, saying plaintiffs lack standing to sue

U.S. Supreme Court (Photo by Andrew Harnik, Getty Images)
By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with the Biden administration in a dispute with Republican-led states over how far the federal government can go to combat controversial social media posts on topics including Covid-19.

By a 6-3 vote, the justices threw out lower-court rulings that favored Louisiana, Missouri and other parties in their claims that officials in the Democratic administration leaned on social-media platforms to unconstitutionally squelch conservative points of view.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the court that the states and other parties did not have the legal right, or standing, to sue. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The decision should not affect typical social media users or their posts.

The case is among several before the court this term that affect social media companies in the context of free speech. Earlier cases over state laws and the one that was decided Wednesday are variations on the same theme, complaints that the platforms are censoring conservative viewpoints.

The states had argued that White House communications staffers, the surgeon general, the FBI and the U.S. cybersecurity agency are among those who applied “unrelenting pressure” to coerce changes in online content on social media platforms.

The justices appeared broadly skeptical of those claims during arguments in March and several worried that common interactions between government officials and the platforms could be affected by a ruling for the states.

The Biden administration underscored those concerns when it noted that the government would lose its ability to communicate with the social media companies about antisemitic and anti-Muslim posts, as well as on issues of national security, public health and election integrity.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the court reached the right outcome because “it helps ensure the Biden Administration can continue our important work with technology companies to protect the safety and security of the American people, after years of extreme and unfounded Republican attacks on public officials who engaged in critical work to keep Americans safe.”

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill said the decision “gives a free pass to the federal government to threaten tech platforms into censorship and suppression of speech that is indisputably protected by the First Amendment. The majority waves off the worst government coercion scheme in history.”

The justices did not weigh in on the substance of the states’ claims or the administration’s response in their decision Wednesday.

“We begin — and end — with standing,” Barrett wrote. “At this stage, neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have established standing to seek an injunction against any defendant. We therefore lack jurisdiction to reach the merits of the dispute.”

In dissent, Alito wrote that the states amply demonstrated their right to sue. “For months, high-ranking government officials placed unrelenting pressure on Facebook to suppress Americans’ free speech. Because the court unjustifiably refuses to address this serious threat to the First Amendment, I respectfully dissent.”

Nina Jankowicz was named in the original lawsuit after being appointed in 2022 to lead a new board in the Department of Homeland Security to tackle disinformation. The board was dissolved within weeks, amid conspiracy theories and criticism from Republicans and conservative activists who saw the effort as a political tool to regulate free speech.

Jankowicz, an expert in disinformation, said the Supreme Court had done what she had expected, but she said the damage from the lawsuit is not easily fixed.

“Unfortunately, there is an entire class of people that now believes the government, in coordination with independent researchers, is censoring some part of the American population,” she said. “I don’t think that’s going to go away anytime soon.”

The decision comes as many social media companies have removed guardrails against hate and disinformation. The platform X, owned by Elon Musk, has restored the accounts of conspiracy theorists and extremists who were previously banned. It also has gutted teams that once fought misinformation on the platform, leaving the community of users to moderate itself.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, no longer emphasizes news and political content on its platforms after facing years of accusations that it mishandles misinformation and contributes to political polarization.

The decision means that the Food and Drug Administration "can continue coordinating directly with social-media platforms," reports Jessica Karins of Inside Health Policy.

"The justices said the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they could not show the removal of their social-media content or bans on their accounts were undertaken as the result of government pressure. Rather, the removal was the result of an independent decision-making process that considered government feedback — even if strongly worded — as one of many factors."

The dissenters argued "that the government undertook a major campaign of censorship and that the majority is allowing a significant restriction on free speech to remain in place," Karins reports.

The decision "says the plaintiffs’ allegations of injury depend on actions taken by the social-media platforms, but instead of suing the platforms, the plaintiffs sought to enjoin government agencies and officials from communicating with platforms on misinformation," Karins notes. "Barrett wrote that this contradicts the principle that courts cannot redress injury caused by a third party not before the court."

In friend-of-the-court briefs, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and other health organizations "emphasized the government’s compelling interest in fighting misinformation about vaccination, since many of the social media posts at issue were about Covid-19 vaccines," Karins reports.

Rural Tennessee hospitals near Kentucky border remain closed as the Volunteer State keeps spurning expansion of Medicaid

Jellico Medical Center is defunct. (KFF News photo by Taylor Sisk)
By Taylor Sisk
KFF Health News

JELLICO, Tenn. — In March 2021, this town of about 2,000 on the Kentucky border in the shadow of Pine Mountain lost its hospital. It's in Campbell County, which ranks 90th of Tennessee’s 95 counties in health outcomes and has a poverty rate almost double the national average, so losing its health care cornerstone sent ripple effects through the region.

“That hospital was not only the health-care lifeline to this community,” said Tawnya Brock, a health-care quality manager and a Jellico resident. “Economically and socially, it was the center of the community.”

Since 2010, 149 rural U.S. hospitals have closed or stopped in-patient care, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina. Tennessee has had the second-most closures of any state, with 15, and the most closures per person. Texas has the most, with 25. Neither state has expanded Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as has Kentucky, where only four hospitals have closed.

Jellico Medical Center was a 54-bed, acute-care facility. When it closed, some 300 jobs went with it. Restaurants and other small businesses in Jellico also have gone under, said Brock, who is a member of the Rural Health Association of Tennessee’s legislative committee. And the town must contend with the empty husk of a hospital.

Dozens of small communities are grappling with what to do with hospitals that have closed. Sheps Center researchers have found that while a closure negatively affects the local economy, those effects can be softened if the building is converted to another type of health care facility.

In Jellico, the town owns the old hospital building, and Mayor Sandy Terry said it is in decent condition. But the last operator, Boa Vida Healthcare of Indiana, holds the license to operate a medical facility there and has yet to announce its plans for the building, leaving Jellico in limbo. Terry said local officials are talking with health-care providers that have expressed interest in reopening the hospital. That’s their preferred option. Jellico does not have a Plan B.

“We’re just in hopes that maybe someone will take it over,” Terry said. Meanwhile, the nearest emergency rooms are a half-hour drive away in LaFollette, Tenn., and in Corbin, Ky.

MapQuest map, adapted by Kentucky Health News
An hour and a half away in Fentress County, the building that once housed Jamestown Regional Medical Center has been empty since June 2019, when Florida-based Rennova Health — which also previously operated Jellico Medical Center — locked it up.

County Executive Jimmy Johnson said Rennova’s exit from Jamestown was so abrupt that “the beds were all made up perfectly” and IV stands and wheelchairs sat in the halls. About 150 jobs evaporated when the center closed.

Rennova still owed Fentress County $207,000 in taxes, Johnson said, and in April the property was put up for auction. A local business owner purchased it for $220,000. But Rennova was granted a year to reacquire the building for what it owed in back taxes, plus interest, and did so within a few days.

Abandoned hospital buildings dot the map in Middle and East Tennessee. In West Tennessee, some shuttered hospitals have found new life.

The closing of McKenzie Regional Hospital in 2018 was a blow to the local economy. But Baptist Memorial Health Care, which operates a hospital in nearby Huntingdon, bought the assets — including the building, land, equipment, and ambulance service — and subsequently donated the building to the town of McKenzie.

Cachengo, a technology company, ultimately took over the space. Because of hospitals’ electrical infrastructure, the site was a perfect fit for a business like his, said Ash Young, Cachengo’s chief executive. Young said Cachengo is now looking into repurposing abandoned hospitals across the country.

Jill Holland, McKenzie’s former mayor and a local-government and special-projects coordinator for the Southwest Tennessee Development District, believes the town can become a technology hub. “It’s opening a lot of doors of opportunity for the youth in the community,” she said.

But in Jamestown, the vacant hospital is “deteriorating,” said Johnson, the county executive. “It could have been used to save lives.” Rennova did not respond to a request for comment.

The University of Tennessee Medical Center opened a freestanding emergency room elsewhere in Jamestown, sparing residents a half-hour drive to the closest ER. Johnson believes the old hospital building could serve the community as housing for those who are homeless or as a facility to treat substance use disorder.

Brock, the health-care quality manager, thinks things will get better in Jellico, but the community has had its hopes dashed more than once.

Brock believes a freestanding emergency room could be a viable solution. She urges her community to be responsive to “a new day” in rural health in America, one in which a hospital must focus on its community’s most urgent needs and be realistic about what that hospital can provide.

“Maybe it is just the emergency room, a sustainable emergency room, where you could hold patients for a period of time and then transfer them,” Brock said. “And then you build upon that.”

She added, “There are options out there.”

KFF Health News, part of the Kaiser Family Foundation, is a national nonprofit newsroom producing in-depth journalism about health issues.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Health department director says she has work to do, to educate Attorney General Coleman about syringe exchanges

Dr. Crystal Miller with state
Health Commissioner Stack
Kentucky Health News

The director of a district health department with a syringe exchange has voiced disappointment to her local newspaper over Attorney General Russell Coleman's opposition to the exchanges.

Dr. Crystal Miller, director of the Wedco Health District, which serves Scott, Harrison and Nicholas counties, told the Georgetown News-Graphic that syringe-exchange programs are misunderstood.

“It is unfortunate that our attorney general doesn’t support syringe service programs,” Miller told the newspaper. “We have work to do to educate him on grasping a full understanding of what this program entails.”

Noting Coleman's statements to Kentucky Health News, Miller said, “This program is designed around the very things he’s supportive of, prevention and treatment. We work closely with community partners to create a system that no matter where someone enters, we know how to link them to an agency that can assist. Substance abuse is a problem in our society that we will never enforce our way out of, and successful mitigation requires all hands-on deck. Syringe service programs are a framework for that in our community.”

The News-Graphic notes, "Approval for such a program, here, was difficult and strongly opposed by the Scott County Fiscal Court several times until a magistrate who once opposed such a program became aware of a situation involving someone he knew and reversed his opposition."

Miller said, “At surface level, syringe service programs can be misconceived. This program provides an entry point to many resources for people who use drugs and allows us to promote recovery. Through this program alone, we have referred people to treatment for drug use, linked them to care and resources within the community to help them make better, healthier choices.

"We have success stories of people recovering in every SSP program across Kentucky. However, one of the biggest successes within this program is the amount of hepatitis C and HIV that we have been able to detect and treat within our communities. Without this program, we would not have identified communicable diseases that are killing people and costing taxpayers large amount of money. Just within the Wedco District, through our SSP program, we have saved taxpayers $1.3 million in early identification/treatment of Hepatitis C. We are effective at prevention and treatment and the data proves it."

As for Coleman's concern that syringe exchanges promote drug use, Miller said, “I can assure you that not one participant has ever reached our doors and decided to start using drugs because we are providing clean syringes. We prevent the spread of disease, focus on reducing as many barriers as possible and being a resource to helping people make better decisions and recover, all while saving taxpayers money. I hope that we can work more closely with our AG to help him understand and support the impact that this program has in communities.”

More than half of Kentucky's counties have syringe exchanges.

Surgeon general declares gun violence a public-health crisis; new AMA president, a Louisville physician, calls it 'evidence-based'

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy (AP file photo, 2023)
This story has been updated.
By Amanda Seitz
Associated Press

The U.S. surgeon general on Tuesday declared gun violence a public-health crisis, driven by the fast-growing number of injuries and deaths involving firearms in the country.

The advisory issued by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top doctor, came as the U.S. grappled with another summer weekend marked by mass shootings that left dozens of people dead or wounded.

“People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and be safe,” Murthy told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “America should be a place where all of us can go to school, go to work, go to the supermarket, go to our house of worship, without having to worry that that’s going to put our life at risk.”

To drive down gun deaths, Murthy calls on the U.S. to ban automatic rifles, introduce universal background checks for purchasing guns, regulate the industry, pass laws that would restrict their use in public spaces and penalize people who fail to safely store their weapons.

Murthy said there is “broad agreement” that gun violence is a problem, citing a poll last year that found most Americans worry at least sometimes that a loved one might be injured by a firearm. More than 48,000 Americans died from gun injuries in 2022.

His advisory promises to be controversial and will certainly incense Republican lawmakers, most of whom opposed Murthy’s confirmation — twice — to the job over his statements on gun violence.

Dr. Bruce Scott
Dr. Bruce Scott of Louisville, new president of the American Medical Association, called Murthy’s advisory an “evidence-based public-health approach to addressing firearm violence” in a statement. “Firearm violence is indeed a public health crisis,” he said, adding, “The data now show it touches the majority of U.S. adults.”
Murthy has published warnings about troubling health trends in American life, including social media use and loneliness. He’s stayed away from issuing a similar advisory about gun violence since his 2014 confirmation as surgeon general was stalled and nearly derailed by the firearm lobby and Republicans who opposed his past statements about firearms.

Murthy ended up promising the Senate that he did “not intend to use my office as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control.”

Then-President Donald Trump dismissed Murthy in 2017, but President Joe Biden nominated Murthy again to the position in 2021. At his second confirmation hearing, he told senators that declaring guns a public-health crisis would not be his focus during a new term.

But he has faced mounting pressure from some doctors and Democratic advocacy groups to speak out more. A group of four former surgeon generals asked the Biden administration to produce a report on the problem in 2022.

“It is now time for us to take this issue out of the realm of politics and put it in the realm of public health, the way we did with smoking more than a half century ago,” Murthy told the AP.

A 1964 report from the surgeon general that raised awareness about the dangers of smoking is largely credited with snubbing out tobacco use and precipitating regulations on the industry.

Children and younger Americans, in particular, are suffering from gun violence, Murthy notes in his advisory, called “Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America.” Suicide by gun rates have increased significantly in recent years for Americans under the age of 35. Children in the U.S. are far more likely to die from gun wounds than children in other countries, the research he gathered shows.

In addition to new regulations, Murthy calls for an increase on gun violence research and for the health system — which is likely to be more amenable to his advisory — to promote gun-safety education during doctor visits.

UPDATE, June 26: New research highlights the need for a public-health approach in news reporting of gun violence, reports Journalist's Resource at Harvard University.

Cervical-cancer screening declined in pandemic, UK study finds

A Pap test (Photo by Rabizo, iStock/Getty Images Plus)
By Elizabeth Chapin
University of Kentucky

New research at the University of Kentucky reveals concerning declines in cervical cancer screening rates among women in the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in rural areas.

The study, led by UK Markey Cancer Center researcher Ty Borders, analyzed nationally representative survey data from the National Cancer Institute to examine Pap test screening rates before and during the pandemic. A Pap test (or Pap smear) is a screening method that can detect cervical cancer or cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer, allowing for early detection and treatment.

The analysis showed that the odds of a woman receiving a Pap test in the past year were 30% lower in 2022 compared to 2019, before the pandemic began.
research published in JAMA Network Open 

The substantial decline is concerning, given that cervical cancer is largely preventable with regular screening and early intervention says Borders, a professor in the UK College of Nursing and director of the Rural and Underserved Health Research Center.

The study also found increased disparities in screening rates between rural and urban women. In 2022, only 48.6% of rural women reported receiving a Pap test in the past year, compared to 64% of urban women.

Women from rural areas have historically had higher rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality, so a widening urban-rural gap in screening during the pandemic is particularly troubling, Borders says.

“The findings point to a need to expand access to cervical cancer screenings among all women, but especially those residing in rural areas, to prevent a possible uptick in future cervical cancer incidence and mortality,” said Borders.

Disruptions to health care services during Covid-19 lockdowns likely contributed to the declines in screening, as many clinics temporarily suspended or scaled back routine procedures like Pap tests.

Based on the results, health care providers may want to consider extra measures to ensure patients are up to date with recommended screenings, including expanding the availability of appointments for cervical cancer screenings and reminding patients of screening due dates.

The research was published in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association

Monday, June 24, 2024

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear case challenging laws like Kentucky's that ban gender-affirming health care for minors

Photo illustration by Shutterstock Creative
By Mark Sherman
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday jumped into the fight over transgender rights, agreeing to hear an appeal from the Biden administration seeking to block bans on gender-affirming care like the one in Kentucky.

The justices’ action comes as Republican-led states have enacted a variety of restrictions on health care for transgender people, school sports participation, bathroom usage and drag shows. The administration and Democratic-led states have extended protections for transgender people, including a new federal regulation that seeks to protect transgender students.

The case involves a Tennessee law that restricts puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender minors. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati allowed the law and a similar one in Kentucky to take effect after lower courts had blocked them. The high court took only the Tennessee case, but a ruling in it will control the Kentucky case, lawyers for the Kentucky plaintriffs told Alex Acquisto of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In their appeal, lawyers for the transgender teens in Tennessee told the justices, “Without this Court’s prompt intervention, transgender youth and their families will remain in limbo, uncertain of whether and where they can access needed medical care.” Arguments will take place in the fall.

Last month, South Carolina became the 25th state to adopt a law restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, even though such treatments have been available in the United States for more than a decade and are endorsed by major medical associations.

Most of the state bans face lawsuits. The justices had previously allowed Idaho to generally enforce its restrictions, after they had been blocked by lower courts.

Kentucky and at least 23 other states ban transgender women and girls from competing in certain female sports competitions. At least 11 states have adopted laws barring transgender girls and women from girls’ and women’s bathrooms at public schools, and in some cases other government facilities.

The nation’s highest court has only rarely taken up transgender issues. In 2020, the justices ruled that a landmark civil-rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment.

Gender-affirming care includes a range of medical and mental health services to support a person’s gender identity, including when it’s different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

The services are offered to treat gender dysphoria, the unease a person may have because their assigned gender and gender identity don’t match. The condition has been linked to depression and suicidal thoughts.

Gender-affirming care has counseling and treatment with medications that block puberty, and hormone therapy to produce physical changes. Those for transgender men stop periods, increase facial and body hair and deepen voices, among other things. The hormones used by transgender women can slow growth of body and facial hair and increase breast growth.

Gender-affirming care can also include surgery, including operations to transform genitals and chests. These surgeries are rarely offered to minors.

Every major U.S. medical group, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, has opposed the bans and said that gender-affirming treatments can be medically necessary and are supported by evidence.

But around the world, medical experts and government health officials are not in lockstep. Some European countries in recent years have warned about overdiagnosis of gender dysphoria. England’s health service stopped prescribing puberty blockers to children with gender dysphoria outside of a research setting.

Contributing: Geoff Mulvihill and Carla K. Johnson, AP.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

When it's hot, drink more water; here are ways to get that done

Photo illustration from CDC
Kentucky Health News

Staying hydrated is essential to maintaining health, especially during summer months. Aside from preventing dehydration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that water helps your body maintain normal temperature, facilitate joint movement and protection, protect sensitive tissues like your spinal cord and remove waste through sweat, urination and bowel movements.

Here are tips for staying hydrated this summer, and there are more available at

Upgrade your water bottle. Buying a reusable water bottle to refill throughout the day can help ensure you drink enough water. Freezing pre-filled plastic water bottles can be a great way to make sure you have access to cold water throughout the day, especially if you plan to spend an extended amount of time outside. Consider buying a flavor-infusing water bottle to add fruit flavors to your water if you dislike the taste of plain water.

Cut back on other drinks. Substitute water for sugary drinks like sodas or teas when you feel thirsty and consume alcohol, caffeine and energy drinks in moderation. Sports drinks can be a good way to restore electrolytes after prolonged periods of sweating and heavy physical activity, but avoid consuming them outside of regenerating electrolytes. Remember that choosing to drink water as often as possible will help keep you hydrated.

Make water part of your meals. Water is usually a drink option at restaurants, so choose to order water when given the opportunity. If you plan to host dinners or parties this summer, serve water and water-based drinks with your meals. Serve recipes with fruits and vegetables that contain water, like cucumbers and tomatoes. Whether you plan to eat indoors or outside, consider keeping a pitcher of ice water on the table during meals so guests can refill their glasses as they need to. Add a wedge of lime or lemon to your water.

Some other beverages can be part of healthy eating patterns: Plain coffee or teas, sparkling water, seltzers, and flavored waters are low-calorie choices. Low-fat or fat-free milk; unsweetened, fortified milk alternatives; and 100% fruit or vegetable juice contain important nutrients. Enjoy these drinks within recommended calorie limits. Milk contains important nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.

What about other beverages? Here's what the CDC says:
  • Sugary drinks: Regular sodas, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened waters, and sweetened coffee and tea contain calories but little nutritional value. Learn how to Rethink Your Drink.
  • Alcoholic drinks: If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
  • Caffeinated drinks: Moderate caffeine consumption (up to 400 mg per day) can be a part of a healthy diet. That's about 3 to 5 cups of plain coffee.
  • Drinks with sugar alternatives: Drinks that are labeled "sugar-free" or "diet" likely contain high-intensity sweeteners, such as sucralose, aspartame, or saccharine. These sweeteners may reduce caloric intake in the short term. However, there are many questions about the sweeteners' effectiveness for long-term weight management.
  • Energy drinks: In addition to added sugar, these products may also contain large amounts of caffeine and other legal stimulants. Concerns have been raised about the potential health risks of these products, especially for young people. 
Regularly consuming water during the summer will help you stay hydrated and healthy. Find more resources about water and hydration at and

Saturday, June 22, 2024

FDA OKs menthol e-cigs made by firm Altria recently bought, thus supporting its smoking-cessation claims; health advocates object

By Matthew Parrone
Associated Press

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the first menthol-flavored electronic cigarettes for adult smokers, acknowledging that vaping flavors can reduce the harms of traditional tobacco smoking.

Njoy menthol product
The FDA said it authorized four menthol e-cigarettes from Njoy, the vaping brand recently acquired by tobacco giant Altria, which also sells Marlboro cigarettes.

The decision lends new credibility to vaping companies’ longstanding claim that their products can help blunt the toll of smoking, which is blamed for 480,000 U.S. deaths annually due to cancer, lung disease and heart disease. E-cigarettes have been sold in the U.S. since 2007 but in recent years their potential benefits for smokers have been overshadowed by their use by adolescents and teens.

Parents and anti-tobacco groups immediately criticized the decision, which follows years of advocacy efforts to keep menthol and other flavors that can appeal to teens off the market.

“This decision could mean we’ll never be able to close the Pandora’s box of the youth vaping epidemic,” said Meredith Berkman, co-founder of Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes. “FDA has once again failed American families by allowing a predatory industry to source its next generation of lifetime customers — America’s children."

Youth vaping has declined from all-time highs in recent years, with about 10% of high schoolers reporting e-cigarette use last year. Of those who vaped, 90% used flavors, including menthol.

In Kentucky polling in 2021, 45% of high-school students said they had used an electronic vapor product, 22% were current users, 8% were frequent users, and 7% used the products daily. Among Kentucky middle-school students, 24% said they had used an electronic vapor product, 11% said they were current users, nearly 3% said they were frequent users, and 2% said they used daily.

All the e-cigarettes previously authorized by the FDA have been tobacco, which isn't widely used by young people who vape.

Njoy is one of only three companies that previously received FDA's OK for vaping products. Two of the four FDA-approved products are "sealed, pre-filled, non-refillable pods that are used with a previously authorized Njoy device, and two are disposable e-cigarettes with a prefilled, non-refillable e-liquid reservoir," reports Jessica Karins reports of Inside Health Policy.

Njoy’s products accounted for less than 3% of U.S. e-cigarette sales in the past year, according to Nielsen. Vuse, owned by Reynolds American, and Juul control about 60% of the market, while hundreds of disposable brands account for the rest.

Most teens who vape use disposable e-cigarettes, including brands like Elf Bar, which come in flavors such as watermelon and blueberry ice.

Altria's data showed Njoy e-cigarettes helped smokers reduce their exposure to the harmful chemicals in traditional cigarettes, the FDA said. The agency stressed the products are neither safe nor “FDA approved,” and that people who don’t smoke shouldn’t use them.

Friday’s action is part of a sweeping FDA review intended to bring scientific scrutiny to the multibillion-dollar vaping market after years of regulatory delays. The U.S. market includes thousands of fruit- and candy-flavored vapes that are technically illegal but are widely available in convenience stores, gas stations and vape shops.

The FDA faced a self-imposed court deadline at the end of this month to wrap up its yearslong review of major vaping brands, including Juul and Vuse.

Those brands have been sold in the U.S. for years, awaiting FDA action on their scientific applications. To stay on the market, companies must show that their e-cigarettes provide an overall health benefit for smokers, without significantly appealing to kids.

“Based upon our rigorous scientific review, in this instance, the strength of evidence of benefits to adult smokers from completely switching to a less harmful product was sufficient to outweigh the risks to youth,” said Matthew Farrelly of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

Richmond-based Altria previously took a $13 billion stake in Juul in 2018, when the brand controlled most of the U.S. vaping market. But Juul's value plummeted after it was hit with lawsuits and investigations over its role in sparking a national spike in underage vaping.

Several longtime health-advocacy groups criticized the decision.

American Lung Association CEO Harold Wimmer wrote, “The tobacco industry has been using menthol and other flavors to attract kids for decades - this opens up a legal pathway for Njoy to market their highly addictive products.”

Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, noted that the move comes less than two months after the Biden adminisration announced an indefinite delay in FDA’s proposed rule to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, which had bene pending for two years.

"FDA has been more closely scrutinized by Congress over its e-cigarette regulation approach in recent months," Karins notes. "Lawmakers in both parties agree FDA isn’t doing enough to combat illegally imported e-cigarettes, but a partisan divide is emerging on whether the agency should respond by approving more domestic products. Some Republicans have suggested the agency should approve more applications for American companies’ products while Democrats largely want those products off the market as well."

In its announcement, "FDA appeared to respond to criticisms," Karins writes. Center for Tobacco Products Director Brian King said, “This action is further reinforcement that authorization of an e-cigarette product is possible when sufficient scientific evidence has been submitted to the agency to justify it.” 

King said Njoy submitted evidence "showing a benefit to adult smokers relative to the company’s previous tobacco-flavored products that is sufficient to outweigh risks of the products, including potential appeal to youth."

Karins notes, "FDA’s statement says authorization of the products does not mean they are safe, adding that people who do not use nicotine products shouldn’t start. It also says the agency remains concerned about youth vaping. It will monitor the marketing of the Njoy products levels of use of the products among youth and former smokers, and the number of smokers who are able to completely switch to the products."

Under the FDA rule, Njoy may not "use most advertising methods," and ads "cannot include cartoon images, images of food or fruit, or depictions of people who appear to be younger than 45," Karins reports. "Retailers must place Njoy products only in non-self-service areas of stores."

Community event at church addresses health needs in Frankfort

A variety of health-focused vendors set up tables in the parking lot of First Baptist Church Frankfort on June 14 to share information and host activities with attendees. (UK photos by Lindsay Travis)
By Lindsay Travis
University of Kentucky

Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

On a warm Saturday in June, First Baptist Church Frankfort opened its doors to more than 500 individuals in the community to put an emphasis on their well-being. It was part of the fourth annual Dr. Rosby L. Glover Unity in the Community event — a day of fun, food, music and raising awareness.

The fruits of this effort are an extension of collaborations with key community partners, including Capital City Activity Center, Meals on Wheels Greater Frankfort, Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension and the University of Kentucky.

“The day is an effort to bring the whole community together, to not only just have fellowship, but to bring awareness to physical health, diabetes and other health issues,” said Bishop Tiangello Hill, senior pastor of the church. “It means that we're doing our job. It means that we are reaching beyond the four walls and being a help to all mankind.”

The event is held in honor of the church’s late pastor, the Rev. Dr. Rosby L. Glover, who made it his mission to be an advocate for the Frankfort community for children and families. His widow, Lady Kimberly Glover, said “This was a vision of ours, and I’m elated to see Frankfort continue my husband’s mission to serve the community and its families.”

The compassion for Frankfort is evident in talking to those behind the June 14 event, like Glover.

“People care about this event because when people get together, we're all just people,” she said. “No matter what race, what nationality, it’s bringing love for one another, showing how much we care. And just to know that the church is here to help anyone in need.”

In an effort to share important health information with the community, inside the church, guests could complete free health screenings. The Lions Club partnered for diabetes screenings and the Franklin County Health Department donated screening materials and time for blood pressure screenings.

UK's Refocus Project, aimed at African Americans, answered
questions about opioid overdoses. (UK Photo by Lindsay Travis)
Tents and tables lined the church parking lot and nearby Clinton Street showcasing the services provided by a variety of health-focused agencies. Among those tables were UK’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and its Engaged Aging Lab, the College of Health Sciences’ Physical Therapy program, the Research Examining Factors Associated with the Opioid Crisis among Underserved African Americans (REFOCUS) research team, and the Cooperative Extension Service.

It’s an intentional approach from researchers and clinicians at UK to address the specific needs of the Frankfort community. The city, at one time, had the nation’s second-highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in African American adults among other health challenges.

The partnership is an important one to Elizabeth Rhodus, assistant professor at Sanders-Brown and the Department of Behavioral Science in the UK College of Medicine.

“We connected with Dr. Glover a few years ago to think about how we can help provide health care, access and resources to individuals in the community,” said Rhodus. “We are excited to see that partnership grow.”

Saturday’s event is an extension of Sanders-Brown’s partnership with First Baptist Church Frankfort. Researchers meet monthly with church members to help address the commumity's needs. It’s part of Rhodus’ Engaged Aging Lab, which takes lessons learned from research and clinical spaces out into the communities to address health gaps.

Rhodus and her team provide support and resources for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia through research which focuses on everyday activities that support healthy brain aging, caring for individuals with dementia and community-engaged research for health equity. They use practical methods and everyday items in ways to help people live healthy and reduce their risks for diseases.

“We focus on telling people about five main areas to try to reduce your risk for dementia: sleep, nutrition, exercise, novelty — or doing something new — and socializing, are the great things for your brain,” said Celeste Roberts, research program manager at the Engaged Aging Lab.

Oil timers can relax the mind and body through visual cues.

Roberts kept a bottle of lavender-scented lotion and an oil timer on the table. The items may be simple, but as Roberts explains, they can relax the mind and body through aromatherapy and visual cues.

She and Sanders-Brown’s April Stauffer answered questions from people stopping at their tables for hours. They handed out helpful flyers on a range of topics related to brain health.

“Having a conversation with people about what they can do every day on their own and giving them the tools they need to ask the right questions about their health is key,” said Roberts. “Unity in the Community gives us an opportunity to start that conversation.”

On Clinton Street in downtown Frankfort, physical therapy students looked like they were playing games with attendees who stopped by their table. In actuality, they were conducting fall risk and balance assessments they’d use in clinic — a four-square step test and a timed up-and-go test out of a chair.

“Depending on how they score we can tell them if they’re at an increased risk for falls or not and provide them with helpful information,” said Sheila Clemens, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy. “This community is potentially at risk for being underserved and they may not get this information elsewhere. We’re happy to offer this easy access.”

In the next booth, the focus was on engaging members of the Black community in research. It’s part of the REFOCUS project, led by Danelle Stevens-Watkins, acting dean and professor in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education.

“We came to this event to help educate the community about opioid overdoses,” said Mona Goggins, a research assistant with REFOCUS. While the number of overdose deaths in Kentucky declined 9.8% frpom 2022 to 2023, there was an 8% rise in overdose deaths among Black Kentuckians. “Our hope is people want to participate in our study so we can increase awareness and gather information that will improve treatment in the Black community.”

The project is primarily focused on Lexington and Louisville, but the REFOCUS representatives shared that guests were “getting what they needed from the table” from education to sharing stories to seeing themselves represented in research efforts.

“I think that when you try to look at treatment from just one lens, you miss out on so many different groups in the population. I think it's important to recognize what different cultural backgrounds and factors that influence people's lives in the way that they experience opioid use,” said De’Asia Beard, a REFOCUS mresearch assistant.

UK’s Cooperative Extension Service has been a long-time partner in this community initiative. Sanders-Brown works closely with Carla Carter, an extension agent for family and consumer sciences at the Franklin County Extension Office.

Carter, a long-time member of First Baptist Church Frankfort, helps coordinate monthly workshops at the church and was the emcee for the Dr. Rosby L. Glover Unity in the Community. She thanked Debora Bobbitt and Reverend Anna Jones for organizing the day.

The event took a holistic approach to community health, with pieces focused on the spectrum of age ranges represented. In addition to health screenings for older age groups, the church donated 65 bicycles to kids in the community — doubling their previous giveaway goal — to foster health and exercise.

It took a team of people to put on the event and a strong spirit of collaboration from the team at the church to make such an impact in the capital city.

Rhodus and her team know there’s a health need in this area that can benefit from targeted resources and outreach paired with different research approaches. The team shares a similar goal with First Baptist Church Frankfort:

“Let’s literally build unity within all of these communities to support every individual, wherever they’re at in their aging journey — childhood all the way throughout their older age,” said Rhodus. “Let’s tailor the health pieces that they need to support a healthy, active lifestyle.”

Where to find more information: