By Lucy M. Pritchett

Forty years on the job and Karyn Hascal’s passion for working in the field of alcohol and drug addiction has not waned. For the past nine years she has been president of The Healing Place. She has traveled to foreign places and tasted many unusual foods, but we’ll let her tell you about that. Her latest enthusiasm is ballroom dancing. No Netflix nights for this woman–she doesn’t sit to relax. Photo by Melissa Donald.

What do you do?
I oversee the operations and programs at The Healing Place. It is a long-term social model recovery program for people with problems of addiction. It has a 28-year history of success in Louisville.

The facility has 740 beds and they are all full. Our primary population is 18- to 30-year olds addicted to heroin and other opiates. When you think about it, it’s horrifying.

Before that?

I was head of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy for five years and before that the director of the Division of Substance Abuse. I have 40 years in this field.

How did you get there?
I really just kind of fell into this. I had a degree in English and philosophy from Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio. I applied for a job at JADAC (Jefferson Alcohol & Drug Abuse Center) as a counselor in the residential unit. After an hour I knew I was in the right place.

Accepted about yourself?

I have learned, maybe not accepted, that I really cannot fix, manage, and control everything — people, places, or things. I am powerless over the disease of addiction, but I can provide tools for people to find a solution for themselves.

Turning point?
When Governor Patton appointed me to be director of the Division of Substance Abuse. It opened the door for me to see the field of addiction through a much larger lens. I love the big picture. I didn’t know that until I got that job.

Favorite smell?
Lavender vanilla. I have a little burner that I melt lavender vanilla wax in at night. I am a huge believer in aromatherapy.

Influential book?
Slaying the Dragon by William White. It looks at the history of addiction treatment and recovery in America over the past 200 years.

Treasured possession?
The watch fob that was awarded to my grandfather in 1913 for high school debate. It is the size of a half dollar. I wear it as a necklace.

How do you relax?
I just started taking ballroom dancing. I have to concentrate so I can’t be fretting about what’s going on in the world. The lessons were a gift from my son and his girlfriend. They said, ‘We know it is out of your comfort zone, but try it.’ I loved it and am still doing it three months later. I do not sit to relax.

How do you handle all your responsibilities?

One day at a time, one step at a time. That may sound trite, but it really works for me. It helps me to stay focused.

What inspires you?
The people in recovery reaching back to help those still struggling inspires me everyday. Easily 95 percent of our staff are in recovery.

What changes have you seen in your field?
When I started 40 years ago, it was alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. Then came crack followed by meth followed by prescription pain relievers. Now it’s heroin. No matter the drug of the day, the underlying issue is the disease of addiction.

What’s not on your resumé?
I played the saxophone in a swing band at college. I started playing at age 6. My dad played, and he taught me.

What makes you angry?
Injustice. So many addicts are abused and used by systems and institutions and that is not fair.

Three words to describe yourself?
Driven, energetic, compassionate.

Strange things you have eaten?

I drank kava kava in Fiji. It’s made from an hallucinogenic root, and the minute you put it in your mouth, your mouth goes numb. It looks like grey-brown mud and tastes awful. But on Fiji it is impolite not to drink it if it is offered to you. Also I tried blood pudding in Wales. When my son was younger we traveled a lot and wanted to experience the local culture so we would try the food. You can’t go around the world eating at McDonald’s. Oh, and Vegemite in Australia is pretty awful.

Parting words: 
I was very close to my grandfather, and his mantra — which he recited every day on the way to work — was ‘Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.’ That keeps me moving forward. That keeps me motivated. Tomorrow I’ll work on getting better — whatever that means. It’s different all the time.