FRANKFORT, Ky. — A new law will soon give Kentucky communities a road map to better navigate the complex public health crisis of addiction.

What You Need To Know

  • The Recovery Ready Communities law aims to help communities fight substance use disorder

  • A new certification will help communities address addiction through prevention, treatment and long-term recovery

  • The law was inspired, in part, by a Scott County mom’s story about her son’s overdose

  • 1,964 Kentuckians died from overdoses in 2020, a 49% increase from 2019

House Bill 7, better known as the Recovery Ready Communities bill, became law earlier this summer. It aims to help communities become recovery-ready by addressing and treating substance use disorder in three different areas: prevention, treatment and long-term recovery.

The law’s passage green-lighted the establishment of a 22 member advisory council that will be charged with creating the guidelines a community must meet to receive the Recovery Ready Community designation. The certification will encourage communities to take an inventory of all their resources and to identify and address any shortcomings. 

“Communities want to address [addiction]. They understand it's a problem, but a lot of times they don't know where to start,” said Rep. Adam Bowling, R-Middlesboro, who filed the bill. “This will just give some guidance from the state to those communities.”

The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy identifies substance use disorder as “one of the most critical public health and safety issues facing Kentucky” in its 2020 Overdose Fatality Report. According to the report, 1,964 Kentuckians died from overdoses in 2020 — a 49% increase from the 1,316 overdose deaths in 2019. 

Bowling started working on the Recovery Ready Communities legislation shortly after hearing Karen Butcher, a mom and retired educator in Stamping Ground, Ky., share the heartbreaking story of her son’s battle with substance use disorder. 

“It was just several months after her son had passed and she stood up in front of our group and told her story,” recalled Bowling. “Probably the most hurtful thing that's ever happened to her in her life — she had the courage to stand up and share that with us. And because she did, you know, we decided to tackle this issue.” 

Butcher’s son, Matthew Davidson, died from an overdose in May 2020. She said her son’s struggle with addiction included multiple overdoses, homelessness and even jail time. He had been in and out of treatment for several years trying to loosen heroin’s grip on his life. 

“When I first found out [Matthew was using] I thought, ‘Oh good, we've caught it quickly.’ You know, not my son. He's gonna go to his 30 day treatment program and come out and he'll be fine — not so,” recalled Butcher. “My story with Matthew is the same story over and over and over — just with different faces, different ages, different genders, different races.”

Butcher now shares her family’s story to help others and raise awareness about substance use disorder. She founded the first Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) group in Kentucky. Through PAL, she and other parents find support, healing and camaraderie. 

“I’ve lost parents, I’ve lost grandparents and I’ve lost friends but there’s been nothing as devastating as losing a son,” Butcher said.

Butcher called the Recovery Ready Communities effort a “game changer.” 

“I think it can make a huge impact because what we're missing is — people get out of treatment and sometimes they're told, ‘sink or swim,’ or that's how they feel. And they don't have a job, they don't have a car, they don't have a place to live. They can't get a job because they may have a record,” Butcher said. “But what if those things were in place? What if our communities would say, ‘Stop. We’re gonna do something about this.’ Wow.”

Bowling called addiction the problem of his generation. He said continuing to treat addiction on the back end — through jails, law enforcement and the court system — is too expensive and isn’t working. 

“This is our challenge,” said Bowling. “We've got to rise to meet it, and we can't just sit back and wait for the state government or federal government to come up with solutions to this. Our local governments, our local communities, have got to buy in.”

Bowling said the goal is for the advisory council to have the Recovery Ready Communities certification ready to roll out by the beginning of 2022.