WINCHESTER, Ky. (LEX 18) — The staff at Achieving Recovery Together in Winchester have seen the devastation of the last year firsthand.
Kentucky saw a 49.2% increase in reported overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2019, 1,300 overdose deaths were reported in the commonwealth, while 1,939 were reported in 2020.
At A.R.T., peer support specialists work to pair people with treatment services, offer support groups, respond to hospitals when an overdose patient is brought in, and much more. In 2020, peer support specialists responded to 249 overdose referrals, according to Juanita Everman, Executive Director of A.R.T. They've responded to 97 overdose referrals in the first four months of 2021, she said.
"It's been hard," Everman said of the last year. "We've lost a lot of life."
There are a number of reasons for the rise in overdoses, Everman said, including an increase in isolation caused by the pandemic.
"People in recovery need fellowship," she said. "We need to support one another and when you get by yourself it's hard to stay on the right track."
But connecting people with recovery services can make a difference, said Peer Support Specialist Tommy Watkins.
In recovery himself, A.R.T helped Watkins get into treatment after he was hospitalized for an overdose.
"The hospital program saved my life," he said.
Now, as Kentucky appears to be rounding the corner on the pandemic, Watkins hopes he can connect as many people as possible to the help they need.
"I pray every night that things will get better," he said.