Officials note gains made and daunting task ahead in fight against opiate addiction at Louisville rally

08/31/2017 05:54 PM

Officials across all levels of government gathered in downtown Louisville to rally against opioid addiction on Thursday as part of International Overdose Awareness Day.

It was the third year for the Fed Up Kentucky rally, and speakers included Congressman John Yarmuth, Attorney General Andy Beshear, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley and Louisville Metro Council President David Yates.

Those who addressed nearly 100 at the event noted the monumental toll that opiate abuse has taken across Kentucky, especially in the state’s urban areas.

Louisville and Jefferson County have been hit hard by the scourge of heroin and opiate addiction and led the state in overdose deaths last year, but officials noted the strides made by state and local governments while acknowledging the daunting task at hand.

“We’re the first southern state to have needle-exchange programs,” Tilley said. “We laid down a gauntlet for communities to get there, but we still now have 30-plus of those programs across the state, and that’s not even considering that the western part of our state hasn’t been hit by this scourge.”

“You’re five times more likely to enter treatment if you go to one of those programs, and they beat back the scourge of hepatitis C and HIV,” he continued. “Did you know that Kentucky has been adjudged by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to be one of the high-risk states? Of 220 counties in this country most susceptible to a rapid outbreak of HIV, 54 of those counties are in Kentucky because of needle-sharing. We have a rate of hepatitis C that’s seven times the national average.”

The 2015 needle-exchange legislation, part of a comprehensive package aimed at curbing opiate abuse, requires approval by local governments before health departments can operate them.

Yates said the vote authorizing Louisville’s syringe exchange was politically risky but has so far paid off, and he also praised the increased accessibility to naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug. After training people in his district on how to use the drug, Yates said a friend contacted him and informed him that she later saved her son’s life during an overdose.

“We’ve had trainings throughout metro Louisville, and we’ve saved lots of lives,” he said. “That’s the positive thing that these organizations, these groups and these leaders have come together to make happen that’s saving lives, but it’s not just enough to keep them from dying. We’ve got to make sure they have the access to recovery.”

Tilley also noted that Kentucky became the first state in the country to limit opioid prescriptions to three-day supplies for acute pain.

But it’s not just state and local governments that have taken initiative in battling the state’s opiate epidemic.

President Donald Trump has declared opioid abuse a national emergency, a year after Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.

However, as Yarmuth noted, the law has yet to receive full funding by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“It’s not good enough just to have policy,” said Yarmuth, D-Louisville. “It’s important to have funding and resources because without the funding and resources, the policy is meaningless.”

Beshear highlighted some initiatives from his office, such as recent announcements of the Kentucky Opioid Disposal Program and impending lawsuits against drugmakers who produce powerful opiate painkillers and have contributed to the state’s recent struggles with addiction.

As Beshear explained, illicit opiate drugs are becoming more and more lethal for users with the introduction of fentanyl and carfentanil. He called opiate abuse “the challenge of our lifetime.”

“That thing my parents told me growing up that, ‘Andy, drugs can kill you the first time you try them,’ is absolutely true today, and they’re even posing risk to our law enforcement, who are out there on the front lines where with carfentanil even touching it can and has caused overdoses,” Beshear said.

“And just last week we learned how depraved some of these drug dealers can be, where in Tennessee they found marijuana laced with fentanyl being sold to people who didn’t think they were buying that dangerous of a drug. Our situation is, in a word, scary.”

Beshear said in the upcoming budget session, he’ll be asking lawmakers for $200,000 in each year of the biennium to expand the opioid disposal program as well as hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the state’s treatment offerings.

The former will allow his office to expand its disposal program to at least four additional counties beyond the pilot program in Floyd, Pike, Henderson and McCracken counties.

“That $200,000 can allow for the deactivation of over 2.24 million opioids that are sitting in people’s medicine cabinets,” Beshear said. “Eighty percent of heroin addicts started not with a street drug but with a prescription pill, and so our plan, our disposal program allows families for the first time to safely dispose of that dangerous medication in their own home.”

“We have people who desperately need it and will die without it,” he added of his request for more money to fund addiction treatment.

He conceded that it would take “sacrifice” for lawmakers to provide hundreds of millions of dollars more for drug treatment, especially considering how much more will be needed to pay ever increasing pension contributions, but that new sources of revenue should be considered.


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