CORBIN – Operation UNITE’s prevention team discussed efforts to encourage youth to make the choice not to use drugs as part of a workshop conducted during the third Appalachian Gathering for Recovery Solutions conference May 22.

UNITE President & CEO Tom Vicini began the workshop by discussing problems faced by grandparents who are increasingly being called upon to take care of their grandchildren as a result of addiction. He stated that giving youth drug-free options and providing them the knowledge and resources on a consistent basis throughout school is the best way to prevent substance misuse.


The UNITE Prevention Programs team then discussed the programs they provide and shared stories on the impact these programs were having. Members of the panel were: Prevention Programs Coordinator Courtney Maynard; Assistant Coordinator Carl Varney; Area Prevention Coordinators Allie Allen, Ethan Cima, and Josey Cruse; Youth Activities Manager Mark Davis; and “On The Move!” staff member Robin Parker.

Now in its third year, the Appalachian Gathering for Recovery Solutions brings people from across the addiction recovery landscape together to share ideas, resources, and hope.

This year’s event was attended by 300 professionals – 180 in person at the Corbin Center and another 120 viewing online.

“While most of our participants are professionals from across the recovery pipeline, everyone is welcome,” said Dr. Cosmina Noaghea, event manager and mental health counselor at Union Commonwealth University (formerly Union College).

The gathering featured keynote speakers, panel discussions, and informative displays representing addiction prevention, specialty courts, treatment centers, educational institutions, and community and faith-based organizations. The UNITE “Hope Wall” and new “One Choice Prevention” wall were on display, and information about the KY HELP Statewide Call Center was provided to attendees.

Dr. D.J. Washington, Interim President of Union Commonwealth University, Corbin Mayor Suzie Rasmus, and Dr. Walczak opened the conference. They were followed by a video greeting from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.

Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, provided an update on the state’s response to the opioid epidemic. He noted that the emergence of fentanyl – which accounts for a large percentage of Kentucky’s overdose deaths – is “a business model that is not going anywhere.” Ingram stated that the state has been focusing on removing barriers to recovery.

Jonathan Philpot, Program Administrator of the Kentucky Recovery Housing Network, explained the standards and certification process used for recovery residences.

Dr. Al J. Mooney, author of “The Recovery Book” and “My Life in Recovery,” joined the discussion remotely. A national pioneer in the field of addiction medicine, Dr. Mooney was at the helm of Willingway Hospital and Foundation for over a decade, a top treatment center founded by his parents while they were in the midst of their own recovery. He helped establish the certification standards for the Addiction Medicine specialty and was one of the first U.S. physicians to be certified.

The morning concluded with a presentation by Geoff Wilson, President of the Kentucky Association of Addiction Professionals, who shared a glimpse at what can be expected as medical marijuana becomes legal in Kentucky in 2025. Wilson later conducted a workshop on trauma and co-occurring disorders.

Following lunch, a series of breakout sessions were held on prevention and recovery treatment programs, the role of self-help groups and faith-based groups in recovery, reintegration support for building and living a healthy sober life, and drug courts and legal issues related to addiction and recovery.

Previously held on Union’s campus in Barbourville, the event was moved this year “to accommodate a larger number of in-person attendees and to enhance the overall experience during the conference,” stated Dr. Kathy Blaydes-Walczak, Director of Addictions Studies at Union and conference director.