Bluegrass Helping Opioid Addicts Recover

Emmylou Harris, file photo | Doug Anderson, CC BY 2.0

‘A New Start’ — In Recovery And Learning To Make Musical Instruments In Appalachia 


Dec 6, 2019

West Virginia Public Broadcasting – People have been playing music together in the small Appalachian town of Hindman, Ky., since it was founded in the late 1800s.

Today, one of the few businesses still open in the town is the Appalachian School of Luthiery, which teaches people how to build wooden stringed instruments. Now that school is playing a role in helping the local community overcome drug addiction.

On a summer night, musicians warm up for the Knott County Downtown Radio Hour. It is essentially a recorded open mic hosted once a month by Doug Naselroad, the founder of the program and the master luthier, someone who makes instruments like guitars and banjos.

“Who wants to come up? Come on it’s just a microphone — it doesn’t bite,” he says. “Now I know some of you guys have come down to play.”

Naselroad has a head full of salt and pepper loose curls, with a matching mustache and a bushy goatee. He is from Kentucky, and in his work he has built guitars for country musicians like John Prine and Lyle Lovett and actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

On this night, Naselroad coaxes several nervous musicians on stage, encouraging them to play songs they had written. Most of the group are in recovery from drug addiction, which is common in this part of the state.

Eastern Kentucky has been one of the regions hardest hit by both a dying coal industry and the opioid crisis. In Knott County, the drug overdose and mortality rates are more than double that of the nation’s and are even higher than the average within the state.

“The opioid epidemic has absolutely ravaged this community,” Naselroad says. “Literally everybody and their brother has been hit hard by this situation.” Read more.