Cathy Williams, Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) Coordinator, spoke to the Liberty-Casey County Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon Jan. 11 about the mission of ASAP and how vape and drug usage is affecting Casey County’s youth.

Casey County ASAP is a group that works under the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, under Kentucky ASAP, to prevent and treat substance use issues in Casey County. Williams said the mission of ASAP was to prevent and reduce the use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs among youth and adults through comprehensive, long-term strategies, and community collaboration.

“Prevention is where you look at the (problem) and you kind of walk backwards when you see you have a problem until you find what is the cause in our community,” Williams said.

Casey County ASAP has been in place since 2002 and holds a monthly meeting at Liberty City Hall to discuss preventative measures and strategies that can be used throughout the community. Williams said there are around 25 to 30 board members, all from different sectors in the community, who attend the meeting every month.

“We work from an annually updated strategic plan created from local data,” Williams said. “We function from local data.”

She recalled a time when someone asked for help with solving a methamphetamine problem at the high school. In order to get to the root of the problem, Williams researched the data in the county and talked to everyone concerned with the problem.

“I talked to the high school,” Williams said. “I talked to the board of education. And we find out, it’s just three or four kids. So, does that warrant a complete media campaign and these prevention strategies? No, it means we can identify those three or four kids, and we can try to get them help and deal with their issues.”

Not only does ASAP prevent substance abuse, but they also provide sponsorship for different programs in the community. They sponsor the Casey Youth Coalition at the high school and a JR CYC at the middle school. Each of those groups started in 2015. ASAP also uses grants to pay for the majority the School Resource Officer’s salary at the high school.

They purchase testing swabs for the schools as well, so the SROs can use them to test vaping devices for THC, the hallucinogenic drug in marijuana.

“The SROs needed a safe at the schools to hold evidence until the chain of custody can be implemented,” Williams said. “ASAP bought those safes.”

Williams also said ASAP helps purchase overdose prevention items for EMS and law enforcement, including different equipment, Narcan, a medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, food, housing, and certification for the drug detection dogs, and several other items for first responders.

A recurring problem ASAP is currently focused on is nicotine and cannabis vape usage in Casey County’s youth.

According to the 2021 Kentucky Incentives for Prevention, KIP, School Survey, 6% of sixth graders, 12% of eighth graders, 21% of tenth graders, and 33% of twelfth graders in Casey County have vaped between one and 40 times in the past 30 days.

“19% of sixth graders at Casey Middle School stated they began vaping at age 12 or younger, so there’s your age of onset,” Williams said. “So where do we need to go with our education? Fifth grade, fourth grade, and that’s what we’re doing.”

In that same data, 7% of tenth graders and seven% of twelfth graders at the high school stated that they used a marijuana product at least once in the past 30 days.

“That number is out of hand right now,” Williams said. “It’s much higher than that.”

Recently, a student at Casey County High School had to be taken out of school in an ambulance due to THC vape poisoning. According to Williams, the student told her she had taken several hits off the vape, causing adverse reactions.

“She said she did 16 hits, and she couldn’t stand up,” Williams said.

To help address the issues within the schools, the JR CYC completed a survey asking sixth, seventh, and eighth graders how they were able to access vapes. According to that data, 118 sixth graders, 70 seventh graders, and 131 eighth graders completed the survey. 50 perfect of sixth graders who vaped said they borrowed it from someone, 8% said a parent bought it for them, 10% said someone bought the vape for them, and 20% said they bought hits off a vape. Of the total seventh graders, 69% said they borrowed a vape from someone, 23% said they bought the vape themselves at a store, and 8% said they bought hits off a vape. Of the total eighth graders, 48% said they borrowed a vape from someone, 5% said a parent bought it for them, 15% said they bought it themselves, 23% said someone bought it for them, and 10% said they bought hits off a vape.

Williams said this is the main issue ASAP, the CYC, and the JR CYC is targeting right now. The groups are working on preventative measures throughout the community.

“One thing that goes out this week is a postcard to all parents of middle schoolers and high schoolers,” Williams said. “It is the harms and the risks of vape and THC use among our youth.”

Along with the postcards, ASAP and the CYC groups are sending out letters to tobacco retailers to inform them on the harms of vape usage in youth and urge them not to sell to underage children.

The next Liberty-Casey County Chamber of Commerce luncheon will be at 12 p.m. Feb. 8 in the Casey County Pork Producers Building.