by Beth Warren, Louisville Courier Journal –
With Kentucky ranking fifth for the most overdose deaths in the nation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned a visit to Louisville offering help to state and federal officials fighting the addiction crisis.
McConnell wasn’t able to brief reporters Monday at the University of Louisville as planned due to the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, but his office released his planned remarks.
He referenced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings showing Kentucky’s No. 5 ranking for overdose deaths last year, behind West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and D.C.
The CDC report, released at the end of November showed the commonwealth’s fatal overdose rate at 37.2 deaths for every 100,000 people, much higher than the national rate of 21.7.
Last year, more than 1,500 people overdosed in Kentucky.
“I think we should all pause to think about that,” McConnell wrote in his statement. “This epidemic is a comprehensive problem that requires a comprehensive response.”
More than 70,000 people died from an overdose in 2017, that’s 6,600 more victims than the previous year, according to the CDC report. In Kentucky, the overdose death toll climbed to 1,565. The No. 1 culprit statewide and nationwide is fentanyl, a man-made opioid more deadly than heroin, and its derivatives.
McConnell has vowed, through his offices, to field questions and help state and federal officials make use of competitive grant resources. For instance, his office helped secure $2.6 million for treatment programs for women and their children at Chrysalis House in Lexington. He helped shepherd through a far-reaching legislative package to combat the opioid crisis that President Donald Trump signed in October.
The guests invited by McConnell still met Monday and discussed their plans to attack the crisis from a variety of fronts, including prevention, treatment and enforcement.
Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said the federal money is “invaluable.”
He said additional state and federal money will pay to expand first-responders’ access to naloxone, an opioid antidote.
Jennifer Hancock, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States, said she was thrilled to learn of available Kentucky behavior health dollars for treatment programs.
She plans to apply to use them on a current project, opening a facility in Clay County that offers residential and intensive outpatient and aftercare for pregnant women and their children. Freedom House is expected to open next spring in Manchester.
“It will absolutely allow us to open faster and to make sure our program is comprehensive,” she said of the additional money.
Hancock said she wants to expand outreach, sending workers to hospitals to encourage patients who have survived an overdose to seek addiction treatment.
Lt. Col. Jeremy Slinker, with Kentucky State Police, said addiction treatment beds will help troopers better assist those who are battling an addiction. KSP launched the Angel Initiative at each post across the state, helping connect 60 people who are addicted with a treatment program.
“Our troopers and officers have been very open to it,” he said. “Having a bed is crucial. There will be more beds available.”
In the last few months, Kentucky programs have received more than $31 million to increase access to prevention, treatment and ongoing recovery. Drug task forces in Montgomery and Powell counties also recently earned coveted designations, meaning federal money and resources, as the state’s newest members of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.