Despite its natural beauty and scenic wonders, southern and eastern Kentucky is home to some of America’s highest rates of drug abuse and overdose deaths. The epidemic of illegal drugs is by far the most devastating thing I have seen in my more than forty years of public service. It has spread like wildfire, with prescription drugs and methamphetamine 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 174 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 in Congress for nearly two decades. One critical tool for which I have always advocated is the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). PDMPs allow pharmacists, physicians, law enforcement and other authorized users to track a patient’s prescription drug history – simultaneously promoting good medical practice while rooting out bad actors. Our state of 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 program – called KASPER – provides reports 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 $112 million for the Harold Rogers PDMP at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Not only has Kentucky has 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 (1) that every state is connected and able to share data, and (2) 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 that combatting drug abuse must be a local priority that incorporates 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 $12.5 million worth of illegal drugs have been taken off our streets; over 4,000 individuals have been given an opportunity to seek treatment for their deadly addiction; 30 drug courts in 24 counties have helped 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 Abuse and Heroin Summit, the largest the largest gathering in the U.S. dedicated to prescription drug abuse and heroin.
While UNITE’s regional efforts have become a national model for holistic, community-based anti-drug programming, I have pushed hard for additional federal resources to combat this epidemic. In fact, when I chaired the House Appropriations Committee, I authored the fiscal year (FY) 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Omnibus), which approved $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 was signed into law on July 22, 2016. This landmark legislation authorizes $180 million in new funding for broad state grants to address opioid addiction and abuse, treatment and recovery opportunities for pregnant and postpartum women and their children, and expanding the availability of the lifesaving overdose prevention measure naloxone. I also recently supported the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides $1 billion over two years to further supplement states’ opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities, such as improving PDMPs and implementing prevention measures.
We have taken great strides to stem drug trafficking 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 that we will succeed in our battle against drug abuse.