A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky communities address Adverse Childhood Experiences to prevent substance-use disorders

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Communities across the Commonwealth want to minimize traumatic experiences for the state’s youngest residents – as a way to help stem the drug epidemic, and prevent future generations from struggling with substance-use disorders.

According to Kentucky Youth Advocates, a nonprofit advocate for children and families, at least one in five Kentucky kids has had at least two Adverse Childhood Experiences or ‘ACEs.’

These include physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, having family members with a substance-use disorder, witnessing domestic violence, and parental incarceration.

More than half (59%) of Kentucky residents have experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE, according to data from the Kentucky Department for Public Health. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner for clinical affairs with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, said research shows ACEs can increase risky behaviors and the development of chronic diseases – and even lead to a shorter lifespan.

“All of these things contribute as that child’s neural pathways are developing,” said White, “as they’re learning how to make choices – healthy choices, unhealthy choices – as they’re chronically stressed and their cortisol levels are chronically elevated.”

White added that it’s becoming clear that interventions promoting safe, stable environments for kids can strengthen the building blocks for healthy coping mechanisms – and reduce their likelihood of dependence on alcohol or drugs in adolescence or adulthood.

Barry Allen is president and CEO of the Gheens Foundation. It’s a member of BLOOM Kentucky, a statewide coalition pushing for policy changes to prevent ACEs.

He said increasingly, communities are recognizing the correlation between addiction and childhood trauma.

“And so, a small group of us grantmakers proceeded to seek an audience with then-Attorney General Daniel Cameron,” said Allen, “to plead the case to apply at least half of the opioid abatement settlement dollars – over $400 million – to apply those to prevention.”

This legislative session, Bloom Kentucky says it’s advocating for sustained funding for school-based mental health providers to improve access to services, for establishing a process to automatically expunge an eviction from a family’s record after a reasonable amount of time, and to prohibit minors from being named in eviction filings.

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