LEXINGTON, Ky. — Lexington is taking a new step to tackle substance abuse, a crisis compounded by the pandemic.

What You Need To Know

  • Mayor Linda Gorton announces creation of Substance Use Disorder Advisory Council

  • Council will consist of 57 members

  • Members will include representatives from social service agencies, public health department, people in recovery, etc.

  • Council to be a resource for Mayor, Urban County Council

Mayor Linda Gorton announced the creation of the Mayor's Substance Use Disorder Advisory Council Thursday, a group that will build on the work of the already standing Substance Use Disorder Program. The group will work by "tailoring the local program to Lexington’s needs, with the long-term goal of ensuring that local citizens have the tools and support they need to work toward and maintain a life of sobriety," according to a press release from the city.

The Council will be a permanent structure within Lexington and a resource for the Mayor and Urban County Council on substance use disorders. With 57 members, the Council will include representatives of social service agencies, justice agencies, public safety, treatment facilities, faith community, University of Kentucky, Healthcare systems, the business community, local government agencies, public health department, family or friends who have lost loved ones to an overdose, family support agencies, state representatives, hospitality industry, and people in recovery.

“Many citizens have identified this as a priority and we need to be sure that our program is meeting local needs. This is very important to me. It is clear substance use disorders have been sapping the life out of our City and having an impact on quality of life and city services,” Gorton said.

The Mayor's Community Response Strategist Andrea James said, "We wanted to build on that good work that is already making a significant dent in the issue through two major grants administered through our Department of Social Services, and in partnership with Division of Fire and Emergency Services."

Amy Baker, who manages the City's Substance Use Disorder Intervention Program, echoed Gorton and James. She said the Council will "make it possible to focus more broadly on multiple substances of abuse, rather than focusing exclusively on opioids. I am very excited to see where this next chapter will lead.”  

While the pandemic delayed the appointment of the Mayor's Advisory Council, Gorton said it's back on track.

"There’s no time to waste. The need is growing because of the pandemic,” Gorton said. “The isolation many people are experiencing because of COVID-19 has driven up overdose rates, erasing much of the progress we made in recent years."

The Mayor’s Advisory Council will advise on the use of two grants, the Lexington Overdose Outreach Program, and the First Responders and Community Partners Overdose Prevention Project.

More committees will be added to the Council to handle funding, strategic planning, family support, transportation, and other issues.

According to the press release, overdose deaths in Lexington peaked in 2017 with 187. By mid-September 2020, the city surpassed its 2019 overdose deaths with 163 citizens lost.

Haeli Spears is a digital producer with Spectrum News 1 KY. She is a recent graduate of the University of Louisville and joined the staff in May, 2020.