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'This is not a choice, but a disease' | Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition hosts syringe exchange

In the fight against opioid addiction in the middle of a pandemic, the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition is providing ways for people to get the help they need.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the opioid crisis reached a record high. With more people turning to addiction, the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition is on a mission to help. 

"With everything shutting down and everybody in isolation it really exacerbated the problem with overdose", said Russ Read, CEO of Beacon House and Co-Founder of KY Harm Reduction.

In 2020, there were 1,964 overdose deaths in Kentucky. In comparison, in 2019, there were 1,316 overdose deaths. That's an approximate 49% increase since the pandemic began according to this report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. People between the ages of 35 and 44 were the largest demographic in overdose deaths, followed closely by those 25-34.

But as COVID-19 cases slow down, more people are seeking help, and the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition is doing what they can.

RELATED: US drug overdose deaths hit never-before-seen level; Kentucky one of 3 states with the largest increase

"We're starting to see a little trend now with people starting to come back, but it's gonna be months before people will realize that they have a place to go and there is a way to get sober," said Read.

The group held a free syringe exchange at the Lake Dreamland Fire Station Thursday where people could come and get Narcan, fentanyl test strips, HIV/Hep-C testing, recovery resources, safe use supplies and more.

"People want to get sober, and people are starting to realize that this really is a disease," said Read. 

With the help of the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition, he wants to spread awareness about drug addiction, and help people realize that it is not a choice, but a disease. 

"Once they realize that, it erases the stigma... and lets people be a little more understanding and a lot more compassionate," he said. 

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