How her son inspired this Lee Co. paramedic's fight against the opioid epidemic

Lee Co. son inspired fight against opioid epidemic
Posted at 7:30 PM, Apr 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 21:33:09-04

LEE COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — We first met Patricia Cole last summer, as the pandemic took its toll on first responders in Lee County.

Six months later, in the midst of another long-time crisis in Eastern Kentucky, the paramedic introduced us to her son, Joshua Means.

“Josh was 27 years old,” Cole said. “Very athletic. Father of three children. A husband.”

But we’ll only ever know Joshua through photos. He died on May 12th, 2010, from a lethal dose of opiates, meth, and benzodiazepines, or benzos.

“It's heartbreaking because you blame yourself,” Cole said. “But in reality, you know you can't stop their addiction. They have to want that for themselves.”

Cole says Joshua got hooked on pills after a car crash in 2007. When he could no longer get medication from a clinic, he turned to the streets, where his years-long battle began.

Her loving, popular son who loved the outdoors “got to where he couldn’t think straight,” Cole said. “Didn’t care what they needed at home. Drugs came first.”

Tragically, her family’s story is identical to so many in Kentucky and across the country. From 1999 to 2019, the CDC reports nearly 500,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. The ’90s marked the first rise in prescription opioid overdose deaths. Heroin caused another wave of deadly overdoses starting in 2010, the same year Joshua died.

That year, Cole was working as an EMT. Spurred by Joshua’s death, she decided to attend paramedic school. 12 years later, she responds to overdose calls, sometimes multiple times a day.

“I take God with me every time I step on the ambulance, but I take Josh, too,” she said.

The opioid epidemic got worse during the pandemic. Federal data shows overdose deaths in Kentucky rose by 50% from September 2019 to September 2020, the third-highest rate in the nation.

Cole’s work on her local overdose task force has gotten busier, too. She tracks each incident in the county by age, gender, location, and if Narcan was used. This year, the list has grown by dozens in Lee County.

For Cole, her work on the task force has been tough but rewarding.

“It makes me feel like Josh's death wasn't for nothing,” she said.

And when she meets a mother, or a young person who’s struggling with substance abuse, she gives them her cell phone number.

Then she shows them Josh’s photo, so they can meet him, too.

“I couldn't save him, but maybe we can save someone else,” she said. “If I can save one mother the heartache I feel and have felt since 2010, it's worth it.”

The Hub in downtown Beattyville is a new resource for those dealing with addiction and recovery. It’s located at 45 Center Street in the health department annex. You can also reach JoAnn Vanzant, the harm reduction program coordinator, at 606-216-648