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Beshear: Prescription Drug Abuse — No State Is an Island

On Feb. 10, Kentucky State Police raided three homes in Pike County. Their bust discovered huge quantities of drugs with a street value of at least $1 million, as well as $80,000 in cash and multiple guns.

But the drugs they found weren’t cocaine or heroin. Police found thousands of Oxycodone and Xanax pills — two of the most abused prescription drugs in Kentucky. And while our officers are working around the clock to arrest the traffickers and the crooked prescribers, the growth of addiction in our state is outrunning us.

About 82 Kentuckians a month die from prescription drug overdoses — that’s higher than the number of people killed in highway crashes. Consider that fact: In Kentucky, our medicine cabinets are deadlier than our cars.

A quantity that is harder to document, but just as real, is the untold pain and misery in families. Prescription drug abuse is filling our jails, hospitals and treatment centers. It is robbing our economy of productive workers. It is draining our state budget of resources that could be used to fund classrooms, put police on our streets and create jobs, and it is wasting away the future of Kentucky.

We recognize the menace that prescription drug abuse poses to our citizens, and we are committed to beating it back so Kentuckians can enjoy healthy and productive lives.

But Kentucky is not an island. In today’s mobile society, no state can be entirely successful in addressing substance abuse issues alone. A collaboration of state efforts, as well as assistance from the federal government, can help put the brakes on the prescription abuse epidemic.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy mirrors many of the strategies we are using in Kentucky. Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske’s visit to Kentucky a year ago helped illustrate to our federal counterparts how pervasive this problem has become and highlighted the need for cooperative efforts among governments.

In August, Kentucky hosted the first meeting of the Interstate Prescription Drug Task Force. Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia joined with us to develop strategies to better identify those who exploit our borders in order to abuse, misuse or divert prescription drugs.

Last spring, I testified before Congress about the devastation my state was suffering because of the “pill pipeline” from Florida and personally encouraged Gov. Rick Scott (R) to crack down on the pill mills that were flooding my state and others with deadly drugs. That effort proved successful.

We’re partnering with a federal program that targets drug abuse and crime, Operation UNITE, to offer summits that will better educate medical providers about the dire dangers of the abuse of prescription drugs. We’ve been fortunate to work alongside Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.)  in this effort and appreciate his continued support of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program, which has been a valuable partner in investigating prescription traffickers.

Furthermore, I recently appointed a panel of medical providers to provide guidelines to make Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting, our statewide electronic prescription reporting system, a more robust, responsive tool in helping identify problem prescribers.

These are all needed initiatives, but they are not enough. We must do more.

My proposed budget would provide, for the first time, outpatient substance-abuse treatment in the Medicaid program for adults and adolescents. It reinvests the savings from a landmark corrections reform bill that passed last year into expanded substance-abuse treatment programs for inmates. And it includes money to enhance KASPER.

I also support legislation that will give us more tools in the fight against prescription drug abuse. A wide-ranging bill sponsored by state Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) requires all prescribers to use KASPER. It expands the sharing of prescribing information within Kentucky and outside our borders. It shuts down unregulated pain clinics and strengthens the role of the attorney general and licensing boards in investigating improprieties.

Another bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R), focuses on pain management facilities. It would require that these clinics be licensed and that they be owned by a physician.

It’s important to note that these bills were introduced by a Democrat and a Republican, and they enjoy broad bipartisan support. In Kentucky, we have found that prescription drug abuse is not a problem that attracts political party division. Prescription abuse is a Kentucky problem, and we are all joining together as Kentuckians to address it.

I will continue to encourage Congress to consider mandatory training for those who prescribe controlled substances and to provide more federal resources to be focused on ceasing illegal prescription drug flow among states.

Kentucky is not alone in this fight. Prescription drug abuse is eating away at our communities across the country, and we must work together to protect our families and our future.

Steve Beshear is the Democratic governor of Kentucky.

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