Press Releases

Kentucky is one of just five awardees in the nation to receive a $1.08 million “Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Boost” grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Prescription drug overdose is a national epidemic and Kentucky is on the front line,” proclaimed CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, during a visit to Eastern Kentucky Tuesday night. “CDC is committed to working with community partners, state health programs, and U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers (KY-5th) to address health disparities and improve the lives of Americans.”

The award, provided over a three-year period, targets states “poised to make immediate progress reducing prescription drug overdose” through activities such as leveraging Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, enhancing insurance mechanisms – including strengthening patient review and prescription programs and identifying and implementing effective benefit design strategies – and conducting policy evaluation to understand what works.

Kentucky had the third highest mortality rate of prescription drug overdoses in 2010 (23.6 per 100,000), with the number of all drug overdose deaths more than quadrupling since 1999 (4.9 per 100,000), according to a 2013 report by Trust For America’s Health. Nationally the rate has doubled.

“Hal Rogers has been calling attention to – and leading the fight against – this terrible epidemic,” Dr. Frieden said. “I’m honored to be with him to advance these important programs to stop the epidemic.”

The announcement came during a dinner held at the Ramada Paintsville Hotel and Conference Center, the third “Health Impact Series” event with the CDC as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative.

Dr. Frieden and Congressman Rogers have worked together through Operation UNITE’s National Rx Drug Abuse Summit to combat this public health epidemic, and have teamed up once again for the SOAR Health Impact Series.

SOAR, launched by Congressman Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear in the fall of 2013, seeks to expand job creation; enhance regional opportunity, innovation and identity; and improve the quality of life for Appalachian Kentucky.

According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, this region has a greater prevalence for heart disease (84% higher), diabetes (47% higher) and obesity (26% higher) than the nation’s average. The state’s lung cancer mortality rates are the nation’s highest, at 67% above average.

“Many of Eastern Kentucky’s biggest health challenges could be improved – if not altogether reversed – with a little prevention,” said Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “Unhealthy habits, are one of the main health concerns facing the people of this region. Many of the associated health concerns could be prevented through healthier choices.”

Tuesday’s dinner – sponsored by Highlands Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph-Martin, Paul B. Hall Medical Center, and Operation UNITE – also featured a presentation by CDC Deputy Director Dr. Judith Monroe, who received her undergraduate degree from Eastern Kentucky University and went on to practice medicine in another part of the Appalachian region.

“We cannot shape the future of this region without focusing on ways to improve the quality of life we have,” Rogers stated. “If you’ve ever battled cancer or watched someone close to you go down that difficult road, quality of life is basically non-existent.”

Through a series of 15 listening sessions this summer, the SOAR Health Work Group “collected lots of innovative strategies for improving health in our region, including many projects that involve re-discovering the healthy benefits of growing our own gardens and cooking together with our families,” said Dr. Nikki Stone, associate professor of the UK College of Dentistry/Medicine and chair of the SOAR Health Work Group.

Common themes in the health discussions included wellness, healthy foods, the smoke-free initiative, a focus on children and coordinated school health, oral health, diabetes/obesity, seniors, the need for mental health assessments and services beginning in early childhood, and the drug epidemic.

“We aren’t the type of people who stand by expecting someone else to save us – the people of southern and eastern Kentucky like to pull up our bootstraps and hit the trenches,” Rogers said, cautioning that there is no quick fix.

“This is a marathon – in fact, this is the race of our lives,” Rogers continued. “We may not even get to see the fruits of our efforts. But, if we endure, our children and grandchildren will live healthier and better than we are living now.”

Health Impact Awards

Emphasizing “it takes multiple programs and great leadership to pioneer the path for a healthier region,” Congressman Rogers presented six  “Health Impact Awards” to celebrate the “great work” in awareness and prevention efforts. Recipients of the award were:

• Highlands Center for Autism. Before opening five years ago there was nothing in the region for families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which affects 1 in 68 children in the United States. It is the only program in Kentucky using Applied Behavior Analysis.

• Paul B. Hall Regional Medical Center’s Diabetic Outreach Initiative, which goes the extra mile to advance diabetic education, promoting health lifestyle choices, and offering a wound healing center providing treatment and care for diabetic patients.

• Saint Joseph-Martin, which inspired and continues to support the Dental-Oral Program Initiative. Through collaborative efforts with the Floyd County Health Department and Big Sandy Healthcare, several thousand dental screenings have been provided, along with more than 300 free sealants, to students who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

• WestCare Kentucky, which is putting families dealing with substance abuse issues back together. In addition to its residential treatment center, WestCare offers a community involvement outreach program, jail recovery program, and homeless shelter. The facility has also been a great partner for Operation UNITE youth programs and the National Rx Drug Abuse Summit.

• Johnson County Community of Hope, which addresses child abuse and neglect in the region. This grassroots collaborative effort between area providers is sponsored by the Casey Family Foundation. A key project of this initiative was the implementation of a crisis intervention specialist in the Johnson County schools to help mentor at-risk students and provide intensive substance abuse services.

• Roy F. Collier Community Center. In 2009, the “Martin County on the Move” initiative was created to help improve the health and wellness of community members. Through grants, the facility has become the “center for fitness” in Martin County by providing essential fitness equipment, wellness education and other programs – such as a 16-week weight loss competition (Operation Slim Down), three 5K walk/runs each year, gymnastics, karate and hiking trails.

For more information about SOAR visit their website at