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Health Department Honors Newspaper for Coverage of Heroin Epidemic

Thursday, March 27, 2014


As print journalism evolves in the 21st Century, newspapers are increasingly taking on an activist role in community issues. The Cincinnati/Kentucky Enquirer’s coverage of the heroin epidemic in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati has been instrumental in bringing attention and resources to the issue. Thus, the newspaper has been selected as the winner of this year’s Award of Excellence in Public Health.

Heroin addiction has grown exponentially in recent years. Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky quadrupled between 1999 and 2013, and the estimated economic impact of heroin addiction in the state is $6 billion each year. Northern Kentucky’s rate of hepatitis C, a disease commonly transmitted among IV drug users, is twice that of the state and 24 times that of the United States. As the incidence of heroin arrests, overdoses and related health problems rose, the Enquirer took notice, and began covering the issue extensively and sharing these alarming statistics.

 “The Enquirer’s reporters and editors have helped put a human face on the families coping with addiction,” said Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health. “They have also kept the issue at the front of our minds—showing policy makers, business leaders and funding agencies both the toll heroin use has taken on our citizens, and the steps needed to change that.”

The award will be presented by Saddler and Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, Senior Deputy Commissioner for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, during the Enquirer’s morning news meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 1.

The Enquirer’s coverage included the weeklong series “Heroin: Prescription for Pain,” in March 2013, and a follow-up series on prescription painkiller addiction and shortcomings in treatment of pain in December 2013.

Both packages included newspaper stories, online videos and interactive graphics. Further, the paper has continued to cover the issue by spotlighting the release of the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Group’s action plan in November 2013, and has followed heroin-related legislation in both the Kentucky and Ohio state legislators in 2014.

More than 15 staffers have played a role in the Enquirer’s heroin coverage efforts, under the leadership of Randy Essex, Senior Editor/News. The Enquirer has published stories about methadone treatment and dependency, opiate-dependent babies, Vivitrol pilot programs, naloxone programs and other related material.

“Heroin and prescription opioids are having a devastating impact across our community,” said Essex. “Parents have lost children and children have lost parents. It’s harming the economy and quality of life, and we just can’t let anything about this stay in the shadows.”

The Award of Excellence in Public Health is presented each spring to honor those people and organizations in Northern Kentucky who have shown progress toward achieving and maintaining a healthier community. Winners are nominated and selected by the Health Department staff for work done in collaboration with the Health Department. The awards were first presented in 2000. For more information, please visit

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Media representatives should contact Emily Gresham Wherle at 859.344.5470 or, about any request or information before calling any other Health Department employee. Your calls and requests will be handled expediently with your deadlines in mind. Thank you for your interest and support in educating the community about public health issues.

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