HAZARD — Both of Kentucky’s U.S. Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, visited Hazard on Oct. 4 to lead a panel discussion about opioid and prescription drug abuse at Kentucky River Community Care.
Members of the community, including law enforcement, church groups, civic organization representatives and concerned citizens in general, joined the Senators in a discussion, which comes on the heels of a recent bill passed by the federal government to help fight the drug epidemic in the mountains and abroad.
“(Senator Paul and I) are both deeply concerned about the epidemic that’s sweeping the whole country and Kentucky, as well,” Senator McConnell said after the discussion.
The newly passed Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act authorizes over $181 million in new funding each year to help fund treatment, prevention and recovery efforts. The legislation also aims to assist law enforcement provide programs that prevent the further loss of life to overdoses and assist addicts in overcoming their addictions. In July, President Obama signed CARA into law.
The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America says CARA is the first major federal addiction legislation in 40 years, and the most comprehensive effort undertaken to address the opioid epidemic, encompassing all six pillars necessary for such a coordinated response – prevention, treatment, recovery, law enforcement, criminal justice reform and overdose reversal.
Senator Paul believes the true power in fighting the drug epidemic lies with those working close to the issue at the local level. Paul recognized the severity of the epidemic’s grip on Appalachian society.
“More people are dying from heroin in our state than car accidents,” Sen. Paul said. “It’s a real problem. We all need to pull together to do something about it.”
KRCC Executive Director and CEO Mary Meade-McKenzie expressed hope in the new legislation’s ability to make a difference.
“KRCC clearly has an interest in any legislation which impacts the war on drugs in our region, and CARA certainly has such an impact,” said Meade-McKenzie.
KRCC has already been developing new initiatives to fight drug abuse in the community, with programs such as the Hickory Hill Recovery Center for men, the Turning Point program for pregnant women and the new Hollyberry House for pregnant and postpartum women battling narcotics addiction.
“This is a highly complex problem and you need significant resources to even begin to make a dent,” Meade-McKenzie said. “CARA will provide grant and funding opportunities to push funding down from the federal level to regional and local agencies that are the first lines of defense against the drug abuse and overdose deaths that are decimating our region.”
Along with Hazard, a stop was also scheduled in Pikeville on Oct. 4. McConnell and Paul were not the only elected officials to address the drug epidemic in Hazard during the week. Congressman Hal Rogers held discussions in town about the issue on Oct. 6. More information about CARA can be found by visiting: cadca.org/comprehensive-addiction-and-recovery-act-cara.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.