PRESTONSBURG – State leaders joined Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers in pledging strong, bi-partisan support of efforts to curb prescription drug abuse during a forum held Monday night at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park.
More than 400 people attended the Bluegrass Policy Forum on Substance Abuse, held at the Wilkinson-Stumbo Conference Center, to learn about current anti-drug efforts and what more needs to be accomplished.
The forum raised more than $75,000 for treatment/recovery and prevention efforts of Operation UNITE and the Recovery Kentucky program. “This translates into hope and opportunity,” said Karen Kelly, director of UNITE.
Participating in the forum were Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers, House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, and Senator Judiciary Committee Member Brandon Smith. The program was moderated by Kentucky Educational Television’s Renee Shaw.
“We have got more people dying of prescription drug overdoses than car wrecks,” said Rogers. “It doesn’t seem to me the public is alarmed enough about the problem.”
Rogers, chair of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, praised UNITE for its leadership in leading discussion on a national level, and thanked the governor and legislators for providing state funding in the wake of federal cutbacks.
A main topic of conversation revolved around House Bill 1, passed during the last General Assembly session, which toughened reporting and licensing requirements.
“House Bill 1 is working, and it’s working very rapidly,” said Gov. Steve Beshear, noting 10 pain management clinics have already gone out of business “because they don’t want to comply” with the regulations and the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure has disciplined 33 doctors in the past six months.
“The few bad apples are starting to be eliminated,” Beshear said.
Beshear also noted that the number of accounts utilizing the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system has tripled with medical prescribers requesting nearly 20,000 reports per day – with about 90 percent being answered “in less than 15 seconds.”
While drug use in Kentucky is dropping, it is still at unacceptable levels. Beshear said last year there were 219 million doses of Hydrocodone prescribed in the state. “That is 51 doses for every man, woman and child living in Kentucky.”
Regarding criticism that the new legislation might be putting unnecessary burdens on doctors and hindering proper patient care, Beshear was steadfast. “Any legitimate doctor has nothing to fear,” Beshear added. “The doctors themselves wrote the legislation.”
Each of the panel members acknowledged that there are a few areas of the bill that may need to be “tweaked,” but Beshear was adamant that “we are not going back to where we had a prescription drug playground.”
Stivers said lawmakers need to “forget the political consequences” when crafting reasonable solutions. “Not on my watch are we going to regress to where we were,” he said.
“Parts of (House Bill 1) may be a nuisance, but it is essential to protect the citizens,” Stumbo agreed. “It will take constant vigil.”
There was also consensus on the holistic approach to substance abuse – arresting dealers, providing treatment, helping in recovery, and educating the public – especially youth, who are the “unintended victims” of drug use.
Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, who sits on the board for Recovery Kentucky, said our prescription drug epidemic was “worse than most other states.” She noted that Kentucky has a higher incidence of drug use than the U.S. average “for every single age group.
“These statistics are shocking and disheartening,” Mrs. Beshear said. “People are looking for help.”
The forum also included the presentation of a $100,000 check to UNITE from Kentucky River Properties. This was the fourth installment of a five-year pledge, targeted to treatment vouchers and Drug Court programs in the region.