In 2015, Austin, Indiana, a town of about 4,000 individuals, experienced an unexpected HIV outbreak. Due to the expanding Opioid epidemic and injection drug use, in the matter of one year 229 individuals were infected with the HIV virus. Then, in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed and evaluated counties from across the nation that are susceptible to a similar outbreak. From this evaluation, the CDC has identified 26 Eastern Kentucky counties most at risk. This is the most concentrated area of high-risk nationally yet few financial resources are in place for prevention.
In response to the Opioid epidemic that has greatly impacted the region, a work group of community leaders and experts began meeting and strategizing solutions. The original partners from this work group included AIDS Volunteers, Inc., Big Sandy Health Care, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hazard Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Hazard Area Health Education Center (AHEC), Hazard Perry County Community Ministries, Kentucky Department for Public Health, Kentucky Mountain Health Alliance, Kentucky Pharmacists Association, Kentucky River Community Care, Kentucky River District Health Department, Kentucky River Medical Center, Lake Cumberland District Health Department, Leslie County Health Department, New Hope Christian Center, UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, University of Kentucky, New Hope Christian Center (Hazard), Perry County Sheriff, Pike County Health Department, and Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR).
From this coalition, thanks to a grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Kentucky Health Education Network, or HENKY as it is otherwise known, was founded. The Kentucky Health Education Network provides HIV and Hepatitis C rapid testing, linkage into medical treatment, harm reduction education and referrals, and prevention supplies for at risk individuals in Eastern Kentucky. HENKY’s mission is to provide awareness to public health issues facing an underserved region and provide services and resources to individuals who need them most. Our main goals are to identify key allies who are supportive and sensitive to the cause, decrease barriers to harm reduction and testing services related to stigma, and to provide resources and referrals to those who need them most. The Kentucky Health Education Network believes that the opioid epidemic is not a moral failing, but a public health issue and that it should be treated as such.