INTERACTIVE: Eastern Kentucky has highest drug overdose rates in the U.S.
The NORC at the University of Chicago and the Appalachian Regional Commission recently compiled data that shows people living in the Appalachian Region are 55% more likely to die from a drug overdose than people in the rest of the U.S.
More than 20 Eastern Kentucky counties have a higher rate of deaths related to drug overdose than the national average of 20.
"It hit me, like a reality check, I just lost my best friend," that is what Hickory Hill Director Francisco Gamero told WYMT when asked if he knows anyone who has died from drugs.
Gamero said he, his best friend and others were together one night in his hometown in El Salvador when they all went home and Gamero later found his friend had died while intoxicated.
"My mother actually took it so hard that she opened her own rehab place back where I'm from."
The tragedy gave him the push he needed to study medical rehabilitation and similar topics at the Univesity of Pikeville. Since then he has gone on to help recovering addicts and work with some like Jamie Perkins, who now works at Hickory Hill.
"I have a lot of guys I went to school with, a lot of friends that have overdosed and died," Perkins said.
Perkins' drug addiction began at the young age of 12 and lasted about 23 years. He said it began with a classmate bringing pills to school.
"I thought I'd try one... When I did, I felt like I could fit in with everybody else, I felt like I could talk to people you know because I was always the shy type."
Perkins survived more serious drugs and was eventually sent to prison.
"I went to see my little nephews and my youngest nephew was just about five at the time and he looked up at me and said Jamie, I don't want you to go back to jail," Perkins said.
Perkins has now been clean 37 months and works at the recovery center helping others but told WYMT, while many things are being done to help those trying to recover, the stigma still sticks around of drug addicts. Making it hard for them to continue with life afterward. Getting jobs and being accepted in society is often the hardest part and could help people stick to their recovery instead of adding to the number of overdose-related deaths.
Eastern Kentucky counties are among those hit hardest by the drug epidemic.
If you or someone you know needs help in seeking recovery you can contact the following places:
Kentucky River Community Care
Behavioral Health Group