With the growing epidemic of opioid drug abuse, communities are having to rally together to find a solution. From the areas that are hit the hardest, new and innovative methods of handling the drug crisis emerge. Eastern Kentucky has experienced unforeseen rates of drug use, overdoses, and great loss to our communities with the introduction of opioids.

  Higher Ground theater company –stationed in Harlan County, Kentucky– has spent the last few years creating organic, community produced stage plays. Their latest show, Needlework, is based around a specific aspect of the opioid crisis: syringes. After the main character, Sweet Betty, has lost her daughter to drugs, she begins to operate a needle exchange from her house. Under the guise of passing along her homemade zucchini bread to anyone who asks, Betty is actually passing along clean, sterile syringes that her two sons have collected from members in the community.

    The stories within the play are all derived from the real accounts of Harlan community members’ lives. The group is bridging the gaps between the people needing help and the community who can provide it. The topic is syringe exchange is a controversial and relatively new to the region of Appalachia. Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs) are becoming more common as the positive effects from their operation are seen. Through these programs, there is a lesser chance of life threatening illness being passed through needle sharing and it reduces the likelihood of syringes being disposed of in public places: parks, school yards, and others.

   Needlework came to Berea College on March 26th. College students, faculty, and community members all turned out to view the show. On the journey through this emotional show, the audience laughed, cheered, and cried together. The passion of the actors to convey a nuanced, complex story-line was clearly shown. One of the driving forces of the show was to make all sides of the opioid crisis known and visible without being vilified. From authors to folks recovering from years of addiction, there is a place for everyone in this narrative and with Higher Ground. Berea College was very lucky to have had the opportunity to share an evening of shared stories, education, and experiences that will not soon be forgotten.

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Article Written by Morgan Mecham