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Grassroots organization to demand legislative changes at rally on Overdose Awareness Day

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VOCAL-KY organizers are holding a rally Wednesday afternoon for International Overdose Awareness Day to bring attention to harm reduction efforts that may help curb overdoses.

Like the rest of the nation, Kentucky saw another increase in overdose deaths in 2021. 

Organizers hope to get backing from local and state legislators to implement policies to lessen the number of overdoses in the state and adopt harm reduction measures.

“We want to turn our pain into power and start effecting some policies and laws and move away from stigmas and punishment,” said Jennifer Twyman, an organizer with VOCAL-KY.

Another part of the work VOCAL-KY aims to accomplish with the rally is removing some of the stigma associated with drug use and overdoses.

“We want people to feel good about themselves, you know, not feel down about themselves,” said Jessica Lawrence, a canvasser for VOCAL-KY. “These are human beings, these are people that we love, that could potentially be a family member.”

The rally begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Jefferson Square Park. Following the rally, organizers and participants will march to the Muhammad Ali Center.

Earlier this month, VOCAL-KY hosted an event to outline its demands.

At that time, Director Shameka Parrish-Wright, who also ran for Louisville mayor in this year’s Democratic primary, said the organization created a plan, called 2022 Roadmap for Louisville Metro Government to End Overdose. She and other members of VOCAL-KY are calling on Metro Government to implement the plan by the end of the year.

“We just as a city, in my opinion, there’s so much more that we could do in terms of providing people with the ability to do things differently,” Twyman said.

Twyman said the roadmap was created from member meetings where a general consensus was met about what could actually effect changes for those dealing with substance use.

Those measures boiled down to services, housing and care.

“When we surround people with housing and with support services and give them the tools and the opportunity to make decisions that are better for their health and the whole city, then they do,” Twyman said.

Additionally, the rally will feature several Democratic state legislators who have proposed bills that align with VOCAL-KY’s goals.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, representing District 40, is pushing for cannabis legalization and diverting tax dollars to harm reduction efforts.

District 42 Rep. Keturah Herron’s House Bill 776 would decriminalize drugs and expand harm reduction resources and care.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, who represents District 44, proposed House Bill 514 to create harm reduction centers.

Beyond urging the General Assembly to pass these measures, VOCAL-KY is also demanding that all opioid abatement money goes towards “housing, services, and care.”

The rally will also feature speakers from other local organizations, including the ACLU, the KY Harm Reduction Coalition and Louisville Recovery Community Connection.

At a news conference Wednesday, Mayor Greg Fischer and Metro Corrections Director Jerry Collins announced a system to provide naloxone, a drug used to reverse the effects of an overdose, in some of the jail’s dorms.

Under the new system, naloxone — often referred to by the brand name Narcan — would be placed in a box in the dormitory. Once the naloxone is removed, an alarm will sound letting jail staff know help is needed.

“We have about two floors full, servicing about 400 inmates currently,” Collins said of the jail.

He aims to have naloxone directly accessible in some of the dorms soon.

Ten people in the jail’s custody have died since November.

Story updated with additional reporting.

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