Despite its natural beauty and scenic wonders, southern and eastern Kentucky is home to some of the highest rates of drug abuse and overdose deaths in the nation. The epidemic of illegal drugs and misused prescription drugs is by far the most devastating issue I have confronted in my years of public service. It has spread like wildfire, tearing apart families, ruining lives, and stretching the resources of our law enforcement and social service agencies to the absolute limit. While our region was certainly ground zero of the opioid crisis, it has tragically spread across the nation – taking 128 American lives every day according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We must work together to bring an end to this scourge.
This has been a priority for me for nearly two decades. One critical tool for which I have long advocated for are Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). PDMPs allow pharmacists, physicians, law enforcement and other authorized users to track a patient’s prescription drug history – simultaneously promoting good medical practice and rooting out bad actors. Thankfully Kentucky has been a leader in this area: the Commonwealth was the first state in the nation to provide a self-service, Internet-based system for tracking all schedule II-V prescription drugs. The Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) System provides information to assist practitioners and pharmacists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I was proud to help establish a national grant program that helps states like Kentucky track and combat prescription drug abuse in 2001. To date, Congress has appropriated over $142 million for the Harold Rogers PDMP at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Not only has Kentucky received several substantial grants from the program to enhance and expand its KASPER system, but nearly every state in the nation now has a functional PDMP. Next, we must work to ensure every state is connected and able to share data and that PDMP data is seamlessly integrated into a doctor’s workflow.
While we have worked hard to tackle this problem at the national level, the truth is combatting drug abuse must be a local priority, incorporating a holistic strategy. That is why I launched Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education), a regional anti-drug initiative that empowers citizens groups and community leaders in 32 counties, most of which are within the Fifth Congressional District. Since UNITE’s founding in 2003, I have secured billions of dollars to combat drug trafficking nationally and take our Kentucky communities back. These dollars are making a difference back home - nearly 4,500 drug dealers have been put in jail, more than $12.6 million worth of illegal drugs have been taken off our streets, over $18 million has been provided in vouchers to enable 4,700 individuals to enter treatment programs, 30 drug courts in 24 counties are helping those struggling with addiction get their lives back on track, and UNITE clubs and youth programs are partnering with our schools to protect and educate our children. UNITE also founded the annual National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, the largest gathering in the U.S. dedicated to prescription drug abuse and heroin use.
UNITE’s regional efforts have become a national model for holistic, community-based anti-drug programming and I have pushed hard for additional federal resources to combat this epidemic. When I chaired the House Appropriations Committee, I authored the fiscal year (FY) 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which provided $8.1 billion for addiction treatment, prevention, enforcement, and research programs across many government agencies.
Furthermore, I proudly supported the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) when it passed in Congress, and it was signed into law on July 22, 2016. This landmark legislation authorized $181 million in new annual funding for broad state grants to address opioid addiction and abuse, including treatment and recovery opportunities for pregnant and postpartum women and their children. I also supported the 21st Century Cures Act, which provided $1 billion to further supplement states’ opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities, such as improving PDMPs and implementing prevention measures. Finally, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, signed into law in 2018, authorized a record $6.7 billion for substance use disorder treatment and prevention measures. In particular, this bill included a provision I authored to create a federal student loan repayment program for addiction treatment professionals working in areas most in need of their services. It also included another provision I championed expanding the Appalachian Regional Commission's (ARC) efforts to combat the epidemic in our region.
We have taken great strides to stem the opioid crisis and provide access to treatment for those who need it, but much work remains to be done. I will remain vigilant in Washington to maintain federal support for these programs, and with your continued help, I am hopeful we will succeed in our battle against drug abuse.