MANCHESTER – Ten Operation UNITE anti-drug community coalitions were honored for their education and prevention initiatives during a celebration luncheon held May 5.

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli, Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Wendy Spencer, and Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers joined Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers in presenting the awards.

The celebration, held at Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester campus, was attended by a standing room-only crowd of approximately 500 people.

“Everyone in this room has the same mission – we’re here to save people from the grip of addiction,” Rogers said. “UNITE is saving lives and giving hope for a better future o children who have already experienced drug abuse in their homes.”

“While we come from a wide spectrum of occupations and territory, every person is equally vital to the battle,” Rogers continued. “It takes all of us working together, using new tools and resources, to continue attacking this epidemic. We must have the educators, judges, physicians, pharmacists, law enforcement officers, employers, neighbors, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters involved as much as our federal leaders.”

“Today UNITE is recognizing positive initiatives from our grass-root coalitions that stand out for their creativity, community partnerships and citizen involvement, but we are here for much more,” said Nancy Hale, UNITE president/CEO.

“We are here to remember that there are children across the Fifth Congressional District whose voices are being silenced by drug abuse,” Hale continued. “We are here to be reminded that there are those in recovery who need us to continue to walk alongside them. We are here to renew our commitment to never give up fighting the battle.”

“All of our coalitions are doing excellent work and providing positive projects that are saving lives and helping to strengthen families,” Hale noted. “This celebration is an opportunity to recognize and thank those hundreds of volunteers who are making a difference.”

Honored at Tuesday’s celebration event were:

  • Boyd UNITE/Champions Coalition – Volunteer Leadership Award
  • Clay County UNITED Coalition – Project Innovation Award
  • Floyd County Citizens Against Drug Abuse Coalition – Recovery Outreach Award
  • Knox County UNITE Coalition – Youth Service Award
  • Laurel County UNITE Coalition – Youth Activity Award
  • Champions UNITE McCreary County Coalition – Youth Empowerment Award
  • Owsley County Anti-Drug Council – Youth Mentoring Award
  • UNITE Pike Coalition – Community Outreach & Aftercare Award
  • Pulaski County UNITE Coalition – Above and Beyond Award
  • Rockcastle County UNITE Coalition – Community Partnership Award

Prescription drug abuse “is perhaps our number one priority,” said Botticelli, who is responsible for setting National Drug Control Strategy, which outlines efforts to reduce drug use, manufacturing and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences.

Botticelli spoke about the importance of taking a holistic approach when addressing substance abuse issues, whether those efforts are on a national or grassroots level. He praised the many volunteers across southern and eastern Kentucky who have invested their time and energy into securing brighter futures for everyone, especially the youth.

Because of organizations such as Operation UNITE, “we have made progress and we can make progress. We can see the fruits of our efforts,” Botticelli said. “I am here to listen and learn what more we can do [and] ensure you have the resources you need.”

The National Drug Control Strategy places an emphasis on community-based prevention programs, diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment through Drug Courts instead of jail, and expanding access to substance abuse treatment.

“Drug Courts are a crucial tool for breaking the cycle of substance use disorders and crime, and provide people with the opportunity to have a healthier and more productive life,” Botticelli said. “I appreciate the work of the judges, attorneys, probation team, and other members of the drug court team who devote their working lives to make drug courts work.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service is the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps. Spencer praised the efforts of UNITE’s Service Corps initiative, which provides 44 AmeriCorps members to elementary schools for drug prevention education and math tutoring.

“By harnessing the power of AmeriCorps and community volunteers, UNITE has developed a winning strategy to help thousands of Kentucky youth keep away from drugs and stay on track in school,” Spencer said. “UNITE’s AmeriCorps program is a model for communities across the nation working to fight drug abuse, and I salute UNITE’s AmeriCorps members and volunteers for their impact and success.”

Stivers, a Manchester resident, has been a long-time champion of legislative efforts targeting diversion, toughening penalties for drug sales, requiring better prescriber education, expanding treatment opportunities, and restricting the sale of controlled substances.