Kentucky has gotten a lot of attention over the years when it comes to finding innovative ways to govern. Our education reforms of the 1990s were hailed as national models, for example, and we are the only state to permanently dedicate half of our annual tobacco settlement payments to agriculture, a move that has played a key role in the industry’s record sales in recent years.
Two other programs took a step into the national spotlight early this month when a Harvard University-based center included them among the 25 that will compete this fall for its Innovations in American Government Award.
One of those is Metropolitan College, which is not actually a college but rather the name given to a cooperative effort between Louisville’s postsecondary schools, local and state officials and several private companies. The largest is UPS, which since 1998 has seen thousands of its workers get a free college education and the workforce training they need. The college was a crucial selling point behind the company’s decision to undertake a major expansion. As a result, its annual employee turnover rate has since dropped by four-fifths.
In terms of sheer numbers, the other program recognized by Harvard is much smaller, but it is having a major impact as well.
As its name implies, the Department of Public Advocacy’s alternative sentencing social worker program pairs a social worker with public defenders to help provide treatment plans for those charged with lower level drug charges.
The General Assembly authorized this as a pilot program in 2006, and found it to be an immediate success in helping those arrested escape the cycle of drugs. Of the 229 defendants served by the four social workers, only eight were re-arrested.
Similar success has been seen since the program went statewide in 2009. According to studies by the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky, there is a double boost behind these programs. One study found that each participating social worker has saved more than $100,000 in incarceration costs, while the other showed a sizeable drop in the number of inmates who returned to prison if they had received substance abuse treatment. As the state’s revenues continue to improve, we will have to see if we can expand this nationally recognized program’s reach even more.
With that concept in mind, the Kentucky Parole Board recently announced that it has changed a rule affecting inmates who only need to complete a substance abuse treatment program to qualify for parole. Under the new guideline, those now waiting could be released to enroll in a program at one of Kentucky’s community health centers. The parolee would still be monitored, but at a much lower cost: $17 per day versus $32.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly took several steps designed to curb drug abuse in other ways.
One of this year’s new laws establishes a perinatal advisory committee, which will look for ways to reduce such things as infant mortality and substance abuse by expectant mothers. The latter has unfortunately sky-rocketed in recent years across the state, with the number of addicted newborns rising from 29 in 2000 to 730 in 2011.
This law also removes liability for those who administer a drug designed to treat overdoses from narcotics, a move that will hopefully reduce a recent spike in these cases.
Our ongoing effort to reduce prescription-drug deaths has taken a major step forward as well over the last 18 months, with other states following our lead. It is a cause I have been proud to champion.
Since the start of 2012, the number of pain clinics throughout the state has dropped from nearly 50 to seven, and the number of prescriptions for the strongest pain medicine declined by more than 11 percent during the latter half of last year.
Our state’s prescription-drug monitoring program, known as KASPER, has long been viewed as a national model. A report last month by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration referred to it as the “gold standard.”
KASPER has helped doctors be more informed when prescribing medicine, and it has helped law enforcement pinpoint potential problem areas at their earliest stages. Because of increased reporting requirements, the system now processes six times as many reports as it did a year ago.
On a related note, the recent National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day proved to be extremely popular here in Kentucky. Our citizens dumped more than 7,000 pounds of unwanted medicine that day, which is about 50 percent higher than last year’s total.
The General Assembly will always have to be vigilant when it comes to curbing illegal drug use – or tackling any other persistent problem – but we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. As we have shown over the years, and as organizations like Harvard’s center have found, we are not afraid to be innovative, and that is why other states are increasingly looking to Kentucky for solutions that work.