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Friday, August 23, 2019
Weekly gets attention, praise for hard-hitting package on local cost of opioid epidemic, 'the elephant in the room'
A weekly newspaper in Southern Kentucky recently published a hard-hitting package on the local impact of the opioid epidemic. And to make sure everyone read it, Editor and Publisher Sharon Burton mailed free copies of the Adair County Community Voice to all 8,000 households in the county, Al Tompkins reports for The Poynter Institute.
The stories included one about how social workers failed to prevent the death of an infant who, along with his mother, tested positive for methamphetamines. Another story talked about how drug cases were overwhelming local courts and jails, and a third story told of a local mom whose 23-year-old daughter died from a fentanyl overdose after she couldn't get an opioid prescription refill, Tompkins reports.
"This is the elephant in the room. It is here and it is something we have to, we will discuss," Burton told Tompkins. "For people who are thinking, 'Hey, you are writing a bunch of negative stuff about our town,' I say it is because we love our town." Burton won the 2016 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian, given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, which Tompkins reads.
Adair County (Wikipedia map)
The package is unusual for a weekly, Institute Director Al Cross told Tompkins: "Weeklies don’t like to cover this topic — it reflects poorly on the community. When they cover stuff like this, it is only from a criminal justice point of view. It is a health story. It’s a community well-being story. It is the kind of thing communities ought to work together to solve."
It's notable that Burton chose to cover addictions as a community issue, and not just as court cases and criminal complaints; that tends to stigmatize the issue, Cross said: "Community newspapers need to step up … to bring awareness to the problems, not sweep them under the rug."