Money for school drug prevention programs like D.A.R.E. debated in committee

09/08/2016 07:08 PM

FRANKFORT — As the country and state grapple with the health crisis that is opiate addiction, lawmakers on the Program Review and Investigations Committee on Thursday wanted to learn more about efforts to educate Kentucky students about the dangers of drug abuse.

Heroin and other opioids have been on the rise in the state and elsewhere in recent years, and Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, told lawmakers that if the country’s prescription habits don’t change, the number of Kentuckians abusing opiates likely won’t either.

More than a week ago, more than two dozen went to the hospital for apparent overdoses in Louisville while 15 overdoses were reported across the state over Labor Day weekend.

“We watch the television and we see a commercial every night that tells us there’s a pill for whatever ails you, and if you’re having complications from you opioid, here’s something you can take for your constipation,” Ingram said in his testimony. “On the Super Bowl they advertise that, and so we’ve got a have a real culture shift, and I think that’s starting to occur.”

Kentucky State Police Trooper Kendra Wilson has taught drug awareness to scores of school children over the years through the state’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education program known as D.A.R.E.

Wilson, the soon-to-be-retired D.A.R.E. coordinator for KSP, recalled discovering that an eighth grader in one of her classes missed about three weeks to attend rehab for a heroin addiction. She noted that the D.A.R.E. program has won national accolades for its work in drug prevention.

School districts contract with KSP and other law enforcement agencies to teach D.A.R.E. programs, and state police are in charge of training all D.A.R.E. instructors.

But at $7,000 to $10,000 a piece in a time of tight budgets, Wilson said state police can’t afford to fund as many of the training classes as they’d like.

“We have to pull funds from wherever we can get it just to pay the instructors, the mentors for paper, for the supplies needed to teach the officers so they can go out and teach,” she told legislators on the panel.

House budget committee chairman Rick Rand said lawmakers shouldn’t be surprised to see funding issues given the two-year spending plan passed this year that calls for cuts across most of state government.

“These are the programs that are lost or even worse underfunded,” said Rand, D-Bedford. “I think it’s probably even worse that they’re underfunded because they’re still there, but they can’t be fully effective.”

Sen. Danny Carroll, co-chairman of the program review committee, said other avenues, like selling sponsorships, could help generate more revenue for the D.A.R.E. program.

“We’re dealing with the consequences from decisions made over years past, and it doesn’t mean that these are any less important or we don’t understand the ramifications of not funding programs fully,” said Carroll, R-Paducah. “But what we’re trying to do is build a future where we can invest where we need to invest, and unfortunately sometimes some lines have to be drawn to build that new future.”

Ingram said that funding will always be a hurdle in the battle against drug addiction.

“It’s got to be a partnership between local, federal and state,” he told Pure Politics after the committee meeting. “There’s no situation where one branch of government’s going to be able to cover everything that needs to be covered.

“We certainly would like to see prevention increased in our schools, but there’s never going to be enough dollars to do everything that we want to do across the state.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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