PRESTONSBURG – Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, several other state legislators and eight presenters joined with two dozen other community leaders Friday to take an in-depth look at drug addiction in Eastern Kentucky and how the region and the state can do more to tackle the epidemic.
“I called for this meeting because Floyd and Pike counties are, sadly, at the forefront of this tragedy, with no other counties having a higher per-capita rate of drug-overdose deaths,” said Speaker Stumbo of Prestonsburg. “I have seen firsthand the devastation this has caused to our families and our communities. We have made a lot of strides as a state in reversing this trend, but we need to do more. Today’s meeting, I believe, will help us chart a new course.”
State Rep. Denny Butler of Louisville attended the meeting as chair of the new oversight committee formed to monitor this year’s law targeting heroin use. During his remarks, he cited the success Seattle is seeing with its LEAD program, which stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. It uses case managers to help keep low-level drug users from frequently cycling through the criminal justice system, and in the four years since it began as a pilot project, it has seen recidivism rates for participants drop by nearly two-thirds.
“We’re doing a great job of identifying people who need help, but a poor job of getting them to the help,” Rep. Butler said. “Something like LEAD could work here.”
Michael Grigsby, a Department of Corrections officer, discussed the success the Somerset area is having with the Supervision, Motivation, Accountability, Responsibility and Treatment (SMART) Program, which provides intense supervision of high-risk addicts on probation.
SMART participants – there are now more than 60 – have a curfew, report to probation officers regularly each week and are subject to random drug tests, he said. Last month, they took 346 drug tests, all but six of which were negative.
Somerset’s courts also use Vivitrol, a monthly medication that blocks the effects of opioids like heroin. Of the 27 taking the medicine, 26 have remained off the drug today, Grigsby said.
Steve Klipp, with PremierTox Laboratory, and state Rep. Leslie Combs talked about the need of parents, providers, educators and the state to better monitor drug usage and prevent selling or giving prescription drugs to others.
Kevin Pangburn, director of the substance abuse division with Dept. of Corrections, noted how his agency’s drug-treatment options have increased. A decade ago, he said, the department had 450 slots; now, it has 6,000.
Tim Robinson, who leads Addiction Recovery Care in Louisa, said his company recognizes that “there are all kinds of paths to recovery,” so his services help addicts through spiritual, clinical and medical means. He emphasized that addicts need recovery options targeted toward their needs rather than a one-size-fits-all format.
Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said he would like to see medical providers and prescribers more involved in fighting addiction. They can be more pro-active, for example, in making sure families have access to drug overdose-treatment if a family member is an addict or has been prescribed medicine that could put them at risk of an overdose.
He noted that Kentucky was the first state to require physicians to check the state’s prescription drug monitoring system before prescribing. Now, he said, 11 other states are doing the same, with more set to join them.
Big Sandy Area Community Action program outlined the wrap-around and support services offered by community action across Kentucky, including housing, job training and educational assistance.
With that in mind, one idea that Ingram, Speaker Stumbo and others discussed was having a central location for addicts and their families across the state to call or visit online if they don’t know where to turn.
“We have a one-stop shopping website for our businesses, so that they can get everything they need from the state at one point,” Speaker Stumbo said. “We need something like that to help our families who have nowhere else to turn. The system can be confusing or daunting for those who have never needed it.”
Other state representatives, senators, elected officials and community partners who attended – including the Floyd County Sheriff and Jailer and representatives from U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers’ office and Operation Unite – shared ideas at the forum.
Those ideas included incentives to encourage judges to be more involved with drug-prevention programs; tax incentives for companies that hire addicts who have completed treatment programs; and expanding access to programs that help addicts integrate back into life.
“I think this forum was a great success, and it has given us a lot of ideas to consider when the General Assembly returns to the Capitol in January,” Speaker Stumbo said.