LONDON – At some point, there will be a temptation to take drugs, Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers told participants at the start of Operation UNITE’s Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camp in Laurel County Monday evening.

“You need to stay away from drugs. Can you do that?” Rogers asked, noting that “playing sports is a great way to stay busy and out of trouble.”

Conducted by former University of Kentucky all-star Jeff Sheppard, the free camps are designed to allow school-age youth to have fun and learn fundamental skills that apply to both basketball and life – cooperation, effort and listening to directions from the right people.

The first two Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camps of 2014 – held at Bush Elementary School and East Perry Elementary School – were attended by a total of 351 youth from 13 Kentucky counties and 6 other states.

This summer’s camps are presented by Ameritox, a Baltimore, Maryland-based company that helped pioneer the prescription drug monitoring necessary to address the national epidemic of drug misuse, abuse and diversion.

“Like too many other states, Kentucky is a battleground for prescription and illegal drug misuse and abuse,” said Ameritox CEO Scott Walton. “These camps offer a great way to keep kids interested and involved in healthy activities and to talk to them about avoiding unhealthy ones. Operation UNITE, like Ameritox, is focused on identifying potential drug misuse and abuse, and providing solutions to fix it.”

Operation UNITE CEO Dan Smoot praised Ameritox for its partnership with the camps.

“They not only gave us the money necessary to conduct Shoot Hoops Not Drugs, they are also sending two employees to help at each of the five camps,” Smoot said as he presented Ameritox Director of Communication Lon Wagner with a Jeff Sheppard autographed basketball.

At each camp, participants are entered in a drawing for two portable basketball goals. Winners of the goals in Laurel County were 10-year-old Emily Zarate and 2-year-old Taybreeanna Buttrey, both of London. Taking home goals in Perry County were 5-year-old Jeryn Fugate of Browns Ford and 6-year-old Andrew Combs of Bulen.

In addition, 154 parents and guardians attended a brief UNITE Foundation-sponsored education program on this region’s emerging heroin problem. Information about the signs, symptoms and dangers posed by prescription drugs was also provided.

“It’s important for you to be part of the solution to the problem,” Congressman Rogers told parents attending the Laurel County event. “Just when we thought things were going in the right direction with prescription pills, along came heroin. It’s here.”

Rogers asked parents and guardians to take a look around their homes and properly dispose of their old, unused pills at one of the 42 permanent medication drop-box sites located in 34 counties across southern and eastern Kentucky.

“Take away the temptation,” he said.

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically. The same survey found that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives.

All Shoot Hoops Not Drugs participants received a free T-shirt and event basketball.

Helping make the 2014 Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps possible are the Cumberland Gap Mountain Spring Water (Middlesboro), UPS Foundation, Walmart (Louisa), Kentucky Army National Guard, Laurel Grocery (London), Flowers Bakery (London), Chad’s Hope Teen Challenge Center (Manchester), Appalachian Wireless (Ivel), Farm Credit Mid-America (London), First Federal Savings and Loan Association (Hazard), Minuteman Press (London), Tim Short Auto Group (London and Manchester), WestCare Hal Rogers Appalachian Recovery Center (Ashcamp), and Ronald C. Cox Attorney At Law (Harlan).

This is the eighth season for Shoot Hoops Not Drugs. Through July 1, UNITE has conducted 53 regional basketball camps with 7,100 youth participants representing 56 Kentucky counties, 18 other states and two other countries.

Three camps remain:

• Monday, July 7, at Johnson County Middle School, 251 South Mayo Trail in Paintsville.

• Tuesday, July 8, at Boyd County High School, 14375 Lions Lane, located just north of I-64 on The Purple Heart Highway (Exit 185) in Ashland.

• Thursday, July 10, at Harlan County High School, 4000 U.S. 119, located between Harlan and Cumberland, in Baxter.

Each camp – which combines basketball skills instruction with anti-drug and self-esteem messages – begins at 4 p.m. and concludes about 7 p.m.

Participants are asked to arrive 30 minutes early to register. (There is no advance registration.) For safety and comfort while participating, youth are asked not to wear open-toe shoes or sandals.