Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble cited a need for the county to ban pain clinics that are inordinately prescribing pain medication, saying that by banning some pain clinics he believes it could help keep some pills off the streets.
Noble said the Knott County Fiscal Court’s decision to approve their own ban on pain clinics is something that needs to be done here, noting that the county’s latest drug overdose reported early Tuesday morning in Perry County is illustrative of the prescription drug problem in the region. In total, 36 people died from overdoses in Perry County in 2010.
“I feel like we have to do something,” said Noble.
Noble said he was prepared to introduce a similar resolution as the measure passed in Knott County, but County Attorney John Carl Shackelford requested more time to research the issue as Perry County already has multiple pain clinics in operation. There were no such businesses open in Knott County when a resolution was passed there in December.
Noble said Shackelford, who was not present at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the fiscal court, doesn’t believe the Knott County resolution would work in Perry County.
“The resolution that they’ve got right now (in Knott County), it won’t stand up in Perry County, is what he’s saying,” Noble explained. “He wants to go over it and look at it real good, and write one that would be more suitable for Perry County.”
As Shackelford continues to evaluate the issue, Noble suggested that the court appoint a task force made up of local citizens to form and make suggestions as well.
“Let them help deal with these attorneys to draw something up,” he said.
The drug problem in Perry County is not only costing lives, he continued, but it’s having a ripple effect on the county’s budget as well. About 180 prisoners of the 220 plus in the Kentucky River Regional Jail are incarcerated due to charges incurred in Perry County. Of those 180 inmates, about 88 percent are in jail on drug related charges, noted jail Administrator Tim Kilburn.
Additionally, the jail’s annual budget has swelled to more than $2 million, and Noble said it could hit $2.5 million in the near future.
“I suggest we do something, but we’re going to have to get legal advice before we do it,” Noble said. “There’s no use in passing a resolution if it don’t make any sense and it’s not going to help anything. I think we all need to put our heads together and do something that will really make a difference.”
Reda Slone, a Perry County resident and ARH employee, was in the audience during Tuesday’s meeting and described the county’s number of drug overdoses as “almost an epidemic.”
“We’re losing a generation of people (to drug abuse), and not only the young people, but the elderly people as well,” she said. “I feel like we certainly don’t need any pain clinics ... and the ones we’ve got need to be done away with.”
Hazard physician Dr. Donnie Spencer was also in the audience, and suggested the fiscal court use Knott County’s ordinance as a starting point. That law in part targets clinics that have a disproportionate number of patients receiving pain medication as opposed to other medical services, and those that receive much of their revenue in cash. The ordinance calls for a $5,000 fine each day a banned clinic remains in operation.
Amy Couch is a registered nurse at the Hazard ARH, and said the drug problem has become too pervasive and she hopes the county can work to help prevent the continued drug abuse that has become rampant in the local community.
“Our kids, our grandkids, everybody is being affected,” Couch said. “There’s probably not anybody in this room that somebody in their family is not either on drugs, has been on drugs or is in a pain clinic. We have got to stand up.”
Captain Scott Miller with the Kentucky State Police Post in Hazard noted that though his role as a law enforcement officer is to put people in jail when they break drug laws, that in and of itself won’t solve the problem of widespread drug abuse. He described it as more of a “supply and demand” issue that has a massive effect on the community.
“The supply is right here, getting dished out every day,” Miller said, adding that people need to take a stand against drug abuse or regret it years down the road.
Miller said local governments need to approve ordinances to help prevent the distribution of prescription drugs to people who don’t need them, and he’d also like to see statewide legislation to address the issue as well. He said the constitutionality of local ordinances are dependent on the state’s needs and interests.
“We have a pretty doggone compelling interest right now; saving our people and saving a generation of people for the future,” he said.
Dr. Spencer added that he believes the problem has to be addressed on the local level because there are too many interests and too much money influencing the legislature and Congress.
“It’s a money thing,” he said. “Washington, and maybe even Frankfort, is not going to do anything. I think the grassroots are what’s going to have to take over, because if you look at what’s happened (with drug abuse) in the last 20 years, it gotten worse every year.”
Five people from the audience – Reda Slone, Amy Couch, Dr. Donnie Spencer, Captain Scott Miller and Lost Creek resident Lloyd Engle – all agreed to serve on the panel during the meeting. Noble noted that he would also like to see Matthew Couch, the director of the Perry County Ambulance Authority, on the task force as well.
Judge Noble didn’t give a timeframe for when an ordinance could be enacted, but said Shackelford has asked for two months to research the issue.