FRANKFORT — A new initiative to help Kentucky’s court system better address the state’s opioid epidemic was announced Thursday, April 11, 2019, by the Kentucky Court of Justice.

RESTORE (Responsive Education to Support Treatment in Opioid Recovery Efforts) is a collaborative effort between the Judicial and Executive branches of state government, along with community organizations such as Operation UNITE. The goal is to provide training and resources to the court system, as well as expand access to a full spectrum of high-quality, evidence-based opioid prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction services.

Those speaking at the press conference, held in the Kentucky Supreme Court chambers at the Capitol, were Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.; Wendy Morris, Commissioner of the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities; Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Office of Drug Control Policy; Nancy Hale, President & CEO of Operation UNITE; Family Court Judge Janie McKenzie-Wells, 24th Judicial Circuit and RESTORE Leadership Team Member; and Shannon Adams, Medical-Surgical Unit Director at Saint Joseph-London and a Drug Court graduate.

Click here to view photos from the press conference..

“The opioid epidemic has placed a severe strain on the courts and substance use disorders have taken a toll on individuals and families throughout the commonwealth,” Minton said. “We want to give our judges, circuit clerks and court staff the training and resources they need to effectively handle opioid-related cases. By working together, we can make a difference for Kentuckians affected by substance use disorders.”

Specific outcome goals of the RESTORE initiative include:

  • Provide relevant training to the courts on opioid and substance use disorders;
  • Reduce the stigma of opioid and substance use disorders;
  • Affect a change in practice for court personnel;
  • Promote a family-centered approach;
  • Facilitate access to treatment; and
  • Unify efforts to combat the effects of the opioid crisis and future drug trends.

In order to achieve these goals, Minton announced that two-day summits would be conducted in each of Kentucky’s seven appellate districts –including Somerset and Pikeville in UNITE’s service region.

The first, “Understanding opioid and Substance Use Disorders,” will be conducted during June and July. The second, “Understanding Treatment and Recovery, is planned for August and September.

“Conversations about these subjects aren’t easy, but they’re necessary,” Minton said. “We want to help recovery, not hinder it.”

Creating hope and changing the culture surrounding addiction amid the “scary statistics and the horrifying headlines” – including rising overdose death rates – is the mission of Operation UNITE, Hale said.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the cost of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement,” she stated.

Prevention initiatives that include mentoring and nurturing components to guide youth away from destructive choices is critical for long-term success, Hale said. “Offering youth alternatives to drug use through programming and hands-on education makes a huge difference.”

“What you are doing here today will be another significant step forward in that effort,” Hale said. “We can turn statistics into success stories, and RESTORE will help us do that.”

“We believe prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can – and do – recover.” Morris emphasized. “We want to restore hope, we want to restore lives, we want to restore families, we want to restore communities. And that’s what this program is going to help us do.”

Judge Wells, who has been very involved in Johnson County’s Communities of Hope, stated not a week goes by where she doesn’t have to deal with issues related to the devastating impact of substance use disorders – including babies being born because of their mom’s active addictions.

The mission of the Johnson County Community of Hope (JCCOH) is to build a community-based set of services and interventions to help reduce the number of children in foster care and the number of dependency, neglect and abuse cases. Based in eastern Kentucky, the JCCOH is focusing on increasing opportunities for children to remain safely in their own home, return safely to their homes or to be part of another safe and permanent family relationship.

We should all be concerned, and become involved in seeking solutions, because those struggling with substance use disorders live in every community, Wells stated, adding they are our neighbors, co-workers, and people we pass on the highways.

Adams said she is one of those people.

While working as a nurse, Adams said she innocently became addicted after receiving a prescription for painkillers. Over time she stole medications from patients and her employer, and began writing forged prescriptions to feed her habit.

After being caught, and facing many years in prison, she was given an opportunity to receive treatment through Drug Court. That ultimately changed her perspective and turned her life around.

“We need to give people opportunity, empower them to be successful,” Adams said. “Had I ended up in prison, none of this (being a manager at the same hospital from which she stole) would have been possible.”

Everyone has been overwhelmed by the opioid epidemic, Ingram stated. Kentucky has been a leader in addressing the issue for nearly two decades, and now the rest of the nation is finally catching up.

Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers was among the first to recognize the problem and “toll the alarm bells in Congress,” Hale said.

“Congress has finally heeded his warning to embrace the same multi-pronged attack on addiction that has been a model for success here in Kentucky,” Hale stated. “There is not a lot of bipartisan consensus in Washington these days, but when it comes to opioid abuse and addiction, our leaders agree: we need decisive action, and we need it now.”

An influx of federal funding over the past few years is starting to make a difference in Kentucky, Ingram said, noting that a report to be released by his office this summer will show “for the first time in 15 years overdose deaths declining.”

To learn more about the RESTORE initiative, details on the impact opioids have had on Kentucky, available treatment and recovery resources, Kentucky Drug Court, and the dates for the summer and fall RESTORE summits, click here.