Two national news stories, and one here at home, about drug abuse caught our attention within recent weeks.
The first came out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, home to Atrisco Park, where more than 350 children play baseball and softball each summer on six fields.
According to USA Today, addiction is so rampant that users litter the fields and grounds with used hypodermic needles, posing a serious health risk for children on the field and adults in the dugouts and bleachers. Park personnel, coaches and volunteers regularly sweep the area, finding as many as 20 to 30 discarded syringes daily.
A mother who has two sons on baseball teams at Atrisco described the situation to USA Today as "sad, disgusting, and above all, disappointing." Her words are much gentler than our own would have been.
The second story, from The Associated Press out of nearby West Virginia, was published on The Sun's front page Tuesday. It cites a "sharp uptick" in HIV cases in Cabell County, a "cluster" of cases attributable to drug use via contaminated syringes.
The story notes West Virginia previously had one of the lowest rates of HIV diagnoses in the U.S. (4.3 cases per 100,000 residents), with neighboring Kentucky faring similarly (7.9 per 100,000).
But the new HIV cases, AP reported, could "potentially be devastating for Appalachian communities already ravaged by opioid addiction."
We cite these stories today not because they're unique, but because they're common in a country filled with a seemingly endless supply of destructive drugs and frightening tales of their abuse.
Kentucky's ongoing struggles with opioids are well-chronicled -- the commonwealth was once described as "ground zero" of the epidemic, and the problem hasn't gone away.
Just last month, a personal finance website reported Kentucky's unfortunate rankings concerning illegal drugs per capita. The most alarming: fifth most drug overdose deaths; seventh most opioid pain reliever prescriptions; and 15th highest drug arrests.
Overall, the website listed the commonwealth as having the eighth biggest drug problem in the country.
Which brings us to this: given the task facing them, the work of treatment professionals is almost saintly, and has never been more important.
Here in Paducah and McCracken County, we're encouraged by the creativity of a relatively new treatment option for an important local demographic.
"The Zone," a free drop-in facility for 16- to 25-year-olds, was profiled in The Sun last month. Operated at 1620 Kentucky Ave., by Four Rivers Behavioral Health, the facility and its personnel help teens and young adults with mental health and substance abuse.
The treatment approach, in perhaps crude, layman's terms, seems to be "meet them where they are," a philosophy that leans on common ground and connection.
The Zone's approach, director Sarah Trover told The Sun, is to offer "icebreaker" activities -- video games, virtual reality games, computers, among others -- to draw in youth who wouldn't otherwise seek services.
Inside the program, participants are aided by counselors and peer supports in a pressure-free environment. However, and this is important, goal setting is required.
"We don't force them into any kind of services or tell them they have to get any kind of counseling when they come in," Trover said. "We just have some rules for them and we want them to be working on a goal.
"We hope people will come in, and even though it may take them a couple of months, they will want to talk to someone or seek peer support services."
The end goal, she said, is giving youth a "different door and a different opportunity … so they can be successful community members."
That's the type of story we'd much rather read, the type that doesn't get told nearly enough.