In the small Kentucky town of Hazard, located in the Appalachia Mountains, doctors at a medical center identified an epidemic of high-stakes that has caused them to scramble as they race against time.
It began at the start of 2017 when the ARH Medical Center in Hazard began offering free voluntary testing for HIV/Hepatitis C to anyone who came to the emergency room.
The test results shocked doctors as 22% of the more than 1630 patients who took the tests were positive for Hepatitis C, while just two tested positive for HIV.
One of the doctor’s at the medical center said the rate was extremely high for Hepatitis C. Located in Perry Count a rural eastern part of Kentucky, Hazard has been struck by the coal industry collapse that forced a large number of the residents of the town into the unemployment ranks and exacerbated the growing crisis of opioid use in the area.
Now doctors at the medical center in Hazard found another toxic side effect of the economic demise of the town – a steep increase in residents who have Hepatitis C, which is a virus that kills more people in the U.S. than any other type of infectious disease and is very expensive to treat.
In the past nine years, the eastern region of Kentucky, which includes the town of Hazard, has lost more than 11,000 jobs in the coal mining industry. When the industry plunged, other businesses began to go with it. Due to high rates of unemployment around the area, a sense of hopelessness was triggered, said one local doctor.
The doctor added that the reach of addiction has no borders, from children to parents to their grandparents.
It is widespread in particular amongst the miners who are out of work and prescribed medications with opioids to deal with the physical rigors of their jobs.
Abuse of this prescription medication for pain known as OxyContin has been given the nickname hillbilly cocaine, by people in the area, is prevalent.
The local police say a generation was lost to opioids and he believes things are even getting worse. Meth as well as cocaine has arrived, said the Hazard Police Chief Minor Allen noting that the use of intravenous drugs is more of an issue than are pills.
In addition, there has been a huge increase the past five years of prostitution.
Of the more than 250 babies that were born at the Hazard medical center in 2017, 13% had been exposed to some form of opiate drug while in the womb.