Ky.'s fight against drugs gets boost from Washington, 'victory' in Florida, leaders say

04/21/2011 06:21 PM

MOUNT VERNON — With more Kentuckians dying of prescription pill overdoses a year than in car wrecks, state leaders said this week that recent decisions outside of Kentucky are crucial steps to reversing that deadly trend.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama’s administration announced a new nationwide strategy aimed at curbing drug abuse, particularly prescription pain pills.

Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, the 5th District congressman from Somerset, called it a significant move.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House National Drug Control Policy, spent several days in Kentucky in February to meet with law enforcement and drug treatment officials, as well as leaders such as Rogers and Democratic Congressman Ben Chandler of the 6th District.

It “is the biggest scourge we have in the country now,” Rogers said in an interview Tuesday evening. “I hope that he’s marshaling the federal forces along with the states and local forces to fight this terrible problem.”

Rogers also told more than 300 people at the Rockcastle County UNITE dinner on Tuesday that the program is serving as a model for strategies Kerlikowske could use in this nationwide effort.

Kentucky’s Operation UNITE program — which stands for Unlawful Narcotics Investigation, Treatment and Education — has focused on those three areas since its creation six years ago.

And last week, Kentucky officials offered a collective “it’s about time” when Florida Gov. Rick Scott reversed his decision not to fund a prescription pill monitoring system in his state. Florida has been a major supplier of illegal prescription pills flooding into Kentucky.

Rogers told Tuesday that he was “flabbergasted” last fall when he learned Scott didn’t want to fund the computerized tracking system.

Rogers and Attorney General Jack Conway spoke about the efforts in and outside of Kentucky to tackle the prescription pill epidemic.

Between 2005 and 2009, 3,724 Kentuckians died of prescription pill overdoses, according to figures from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

That’s a rate of nearly 18 out of every 100,000 Kentuckians.

Jefferson County had the most deaths with 455, followed by Fayette (209), Kenton (184), Pike (121) and Floyd (100) during that span, according to the cabinet’s figures.

- Ryan Alessi

(Programming note: The piece first aired on Pure Politics Wednesday night. Watch Pure Politics on Insight’s cn|2 at 7 p.m. EST /6 Central of Channel 77 on the Frankfort Plant Board).

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