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NKU social work student Kristie Blanchet is fighting to end the heroin epidemic by facilitating demonstrations and conversations.

Photo by Shawn Faller

“Don’t be afraid to speak about it… Silence is what is killing people.”

By Jayna Barker
NKU Marketing + Communications

For too many northern Kentucky residents, heroin has become a part of everyday conversation.

This is especially true for Kristie Blanchet, a Northern Kentucky University grad student who’s wrapping up her master’s degree in social work and expects to graduate this spring.

Blanchet was one year into her undergraduate degree in social work when she found out her brother was in jail on a heroin charge. This was after another member of her family had come to live with her after becoming addicted to heroin two years prior.

When Blanchet stumbled across her brother’s mugshot on the internet, something changed. She wanted to fight back—to fix a problem that was destroying not only her family but countless others across the region and across the country.

“When a family member is an addict, it’s not just that family member who is suffering,” Blanchet says. “Everyone around them is suffering.”

While in the social work program, Blanchet met Jason Merrick, a former addict and fellow student. The two of them quickly bonded over their personal connections with substance abuse and their deep-rooted desire to effect change.

Blanchet’s dedication caught the eye of Dr. James Taylor, a professor in the counseling, social work, and leadership department, who has worked closely with Blanchet during her time as a student in the program.

"Ms. Blanchet is one of the most passionate students I have had the pleasure to teach,” Taylor says. “With an issue as complex as heroin addiction—one that is filled with misinformation, stigma, and unnecessary value judgments—Ms. Blanchet's work has been a beacon of light to professionals, families, and communities who are working to create change. If there was one word to describe her work, I would simply say... heroic." 

When the Heroin Impact Task Force took both Blanchet and Merrick as interns, they hit the ground running. They submitted a proposal that would fund a program designed to teach police officers and first responders how to administer Naloxone, a drug used to reverse heroin overdose. A private funder supported the idea and offered $88,000 to cover the cost of Naloxone, protective gloves, sharps containers, and evidence tubes.

And the rest was history.

After Senate Bill 192 passed in March 2015, Blanchet started conducting weekly demonstrations all over northern Kentucky. The bill, which allowed Kentucky law enforcement officers to carry and administer Naloxone, also protects individuals who report an overdose from any criminal charges.

Blanchet has facilitated demonstrations for more than 40 departments and agencies since then. She not only teaches how to administer Naloxone, but also how to properly handle syringes to prevent transmission of Hepatitis C and other blood-borne illnesses.

Being able to make changes in the community and watch those changes unfold in front her was gratifying for Blanchet—especially from a student’s perspective.

“It was an amazing experience that a lot of other social work students don’t get to see,” Blanchet says. “We got to witness a community coming together to deal with problems right here and now. “

When she’s not conducting demonstrations or finishing up her master’s degree, Blanchet also serves as chairwoman of Northern Kentucky People Advocating Recovery (PAR), an organization working to help people get from addiction to recovery.

Blanchet helps individuals living with addiction to find treatment and urges anyone struggling with substance abuse issues—whether it’s themselves or friends or family—to seek help.

“Don’t be afraid to speak about it,” Blanchet says. “Your silence helps perpetuate the problem. Silence is what is killing people. People are afraid to speak up and ask for help, but the longer you don’t talk about it adds to one more day someone could end up dying because of silence.”

Blanchet will be participating in a Harm Reduction and Evidence-Based Recovery panel April 19 as part of the Community In Crisis: Confronting Our Heroin Epidemic Think Tank with special guest Sam Quinones.