January was a particularly harrowing month in Henderson when fentanyl overdoses soared and five people lost their lives to the drug.
“By the grace of God,” says Henderson resident Garrett Eblen—he wasn’t one who died.
Eblen, 33, spoke at the launch for a new initiative called Stop The Overdose Project to educate the community about the dangers of drugs, including the deadly fentanyl.
Angie Gatten, the community addiction awareness coordinator for the Center for Addiction Recovery, will lead STOP. Gatten was hired in May and since has been preparing and researching.
Now with the project launch behind her, she’s ready to hit the ground running. She plans an exhaustive and aggressive campaign to reach as many eyes and ears in the community as possible. She has created an interactive program that touches on numerous facts about opioids and fentanyl. She wants to present anywhere and everywhere—churches, schools, community gathering spots. She just needs a WiFi hotspot and she’s set, she said.
She said a greater awareness needs to be present throughout Henderson County.
“It is everywhere in our community,” Gatten said. “And we have to be on the lookout for it.”
In remarks at the launch event, Henderson Police Department Chief Sean McKinney said he met with several community partners in late 2022 to discuss the rising use of fentanyl in Henderson.
“None of us knew what January 2023 held in store for us,” he said.
In addition to the five deaths, there were 21 overdoses, he said.
He said the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, Kentucky State Police and Henderson Police Department have combined for 190 drug-related arrests in the community in 2023. And outside of January this year, the average fentanyl overdose is 4 per month. He said vigilance must remain high.
“It’s still happening,” McKinney said. “It’s still here.”
Eblen said he is a survivor of an inadvertent fentanyl overdose occurring on January 11 at a friend’s house. He said he was using cocaine and—unknown to him—there had been some fentanyl mixed in with it.
This is the particularly scary aspect of fentanyl—drug dealers can mix it in with drugs they’re selling in an attempt to give a user a new, better high. But it’s also scary for people who think they may be using pharmaceuticals because dealers now have presses that can create pills that appear they’re from a pharmaceutical drug company.
A person taking a pill may think it’s a certain dose when in fact it contains a high amount of fentanyl. Officials say to obtain prescription pills only from certified pharmacies–never borrow or accepts pills from someone else.
“You don’t have to be an opiate user,” Eblen said. “It can be anybody.”
After Eblen overdosed, 911 was called and Henderson Police Department officers Daniel Pennaman and Brooke Cassmeyer arrived and administered Narcan.
“Without (Narcan) and first responders, I wouldn’t be here today,” Eblen said.
He said three hours later, Dale Sights, president and CEO of both the Women’s Addiction Recovery Manor in Henderson and the Men’s Addiction Recovery Campus in Bowling Green, arrived at the hospital and gave him a choice to turn his life around.
Eblen made that choice.
He’s now a graduate of MARC’s initial recovery program and currently works there, teaching classes and offering peer support.
Eblen said he was born and raised in Henderson and graduated from Henderson County High School in 2007. He said he started using drugs when he was a teenager. He said if not for the quick action of Pennaman and Cassmeyer, his 9-year-old son would be fatherless.
“Today, I get an opportunity to buy back-to-school supplies and braces for my son,” he said. “Today I have a family that not only gets to see me but enjoys seeing me.”