With opioid overdoses rising again, a new plan emerges to improve access to treatment in rural areas

The spread of Covid-19 has inflamed another epidemic in Kentucky – opioid abuse.


Since Kentucky’s emergency declaration in March, the state has experienced a significant increase in the number of opioid overdoses, according to the Kentucky Injury and Prevention Research Center.


Spikes in overdoses were detected as early as March 26 and have only increased since then, the agency says. Much of the increase is happening in the rural counties.


Partly in response to this ongoing epidemic, Northern Kentucky University’s Institute for Health Innovation has launched a plan to chip away at it. The Institute has started the Carroll and Owen County Partnership Expansion (COPE).


COPE is a strategic plan meant to reduce opioid overdoses among those who are arrested, or who come into contact with law enforcement or the criminal justice system some other way in these rural communities, which are considered at high risk for opioid abuse. More than half of all arrests in Carroll and Owen counties are drug-related, NKU says.


COPE is supported by a $750,000 federal grant NKU received in February.


The university will begin implementing the program over the next 18 months. The plan includes forming an overdose fatality review team that will work with health care providers and other partners to increase access to treatment and recovery programs. A care coordinator and a re-entry specialist will be hired to help connect opioid abusers with social services and recovery support in both counties.


A COPE executive team member, Dan Brenyo, community programs administrator for Owen County Public Transit, calls the effort “getting them where they need to be to get the help they need.”


“We heard loud and clear that this is a top need for individuals in our rural counties,” Brenyo says.


Other partners for COPE include: Three Rivers District Health Department, Triad Health Systems, NorthKey Community Care, the Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, Owen County Emergency Medical Services, the Carrollton Police Department, the 15th District Court and the Department of Corrections Re-entry Services.


COPE will also support prevention and education programs for students in Carroll County Schools.


The Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Justice Institute, and the Institute for Intergovernmental Research awarded the funds to NKU.


NKU’s Institute for Health Innovation was created in 2018 and has received $4.35 million of federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Service Administration and Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration..



Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.