HARLAN – There’s good news and bad news related to drugs and addiction, Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, told the nearly 200 people attending the third annual Harlan County Drug Summit on Thursday, January 11.
The bad news, Ingram said, is that “we’re going to lose six more Kentuckians today – preventable deaths.” Five of these deaths, he noted, will be due, at least in part, to Fentanyl.
In addition, Ingram stated the profits reaped because of the “financial model” of illegal drug trafficking likely means “we will be dealing with this the rest of our lives.”
But, Ingram continued, the positive news is that Kentucky is in the best position it has ever been to address each aspect of addiction , treatment, and recovery.
Ingram cited, as an example, the work of Operation UNITE over the past 20 years and the KY HELP Statewide Call Center, which recently expanded its hours to better serve Kentuckians. Prevention and access to treatment are essential.
He also cited other existing programs that help remove barriers for people in recovery to obtain meaningful employment, reduce the stigma that surrounds substance use disorders, provide alternative sentencing when appropriate for those in the criminal justice system, and provide funding for individual communities to address local needs.
“Every community needs to look at itself” to see if they have the resources they need, Ingram stated. “We’re not going to get out of this easily. It is a long-haul fight.”
This was the third year for the Summit, which focused “on solutions that will eventually save lives,” said Dan Mosley, Harlan County Judge-Executive. “Investments in prevention have never been more important.”
Preventing substance misuse to begin with and helping those with a substance use disorder obtain treatment, then successfully transition back into society, requires a broad effort. “It requires all of us to do a little to make a huge impact,” Mosley said.
Tom Vicini, President & CEO of Operation UNITE, stressed the importance of prevention in this day, when “the drugs that are out there are the worst in history.”
“You are (a drug dealer’s) marketplace,” Vicini told a group of students from Harlan Independent that were participating in the summit. “It’s all about money. They don’t care if you die from it or not.”
In the past, “we’ve been reactive instead of proactive. What about cutting it off at the source?” Vicini asked. “We fight this by reducing the demand.”
Turning to the adults in the room, Vicini said it doesn’t matter your age or position, it’s about the passion you bring to the effort. “One adult can change the trajectory in the life of a child,” he said, adding those in recovery are the best people to share the prevention message. “They know what it’s like. I want them teaching kids.”
Vicini provided an overview of UNITE’s prevention programs that target youth from elementary through high school, and community awareness and education initiatives. And, he concluded, “we’re just scratching the surface. Let’s recommit ourselves to working together, doing things in the best interests of others.”
For more information about Operation UNITE initiatives, please visit their website at OperationUNITE.org.