Drug czar visits northern Kentucky to discuss heroin epidemic in region

04/09/2015 04:33 PM

COVINGTON — Michael Botticelli, the director of National Drug Control Policy, was in northern Kentucky on Wednesday to address the growing heroin epidemic in the region at the invitation of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who accompanied the drug czar to an event with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Botticelli and McConnell participated in a roundtable discussion with medical personnel at St. Elizabeth Medical Center before they spoke at the chamber event. The hospital in Edgewood has seen the number of heroin overdose patients triple between 2011 and 2014.

In addition, the rate of drug addicted newborns has skyrocketed. The hospital said they diagnosed 26 newborns with drug withdrawal syndrome four years ago, and now the number is up to 128.

Botticelli acknowledged the need to provide better access to acute care and treatment and long term care for addicts and says that the federal government is working to make that happen.

“I’m happy to say that, even among our fiscal challenges, we’ve been able to increase support for prevention, treatment and recovery each year and so now it’s at its highest level than it has been in a long time,” Botticelli said.

While treatment for addicts is an essential part of combating the drug problem, another part of the equation is working to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place.

Botticelli praised the implementation of 22 Drug Free Community Programs throughout the commonwealth. The program, in placed local communities is centered around coming up with ways to keep people from becoming hooked on drugs in the fist place.

“Part of what these resources do is to give people at the local level, require all sector of the communities to come together,” Botticelli said. “So, health institutions, coaches, faith institutions, law enforcement, really focus on the problem in their given community and develop community-based solutions.”

One of the controversial parts of the recently passed heroin legislation in Kentucky is the inclusion of a needle exchange program in which addicts can turn in used needles to their local health departments in exchange for clean ones.

Botticelli says that the alarming increase in rates of persons with hepatitis and HIV prove the necessity for needle exchange programs to help eliminate the spread of the diseases and save lives.

“I think there’s significant evidence about the effectiveness of needle exchange programs in terms of reducing infection,” Botticelli said. “But not only reducing
infection but using it as outreach to injection drug users as another vehicle to get them into care.”

Approximately 1,000 Kentuckians die each year from drug overdoses, and at least one third of those deaths can be attributed to heroin.

About Don Weber

Don Weber joined cn|2 when it launched back in May 2010 and soon became a reporter for Pure Politics. He is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University and has spent many years covering everything from politics to sports. Don says he loves meeting new people everyday as part of his job and also enjoys the fact that no two days are the same when he comes to work. Don Weber can be reached at donald.weber@twcnews.com.


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