Attorney General Jack Conway took his Keep Kentucky Kids Safe program to Scott and Anderson counties on Tuesday, warning approximately 1,650 students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and heroin.
“I want Kentucky kids to know that these highly addictive drugs can kill them,” Attorney General Conway said. “Kentuckians, young and old, are overdosing every day on prescription painkillers and heroin. Addiction is shattering families across the Commonwealth, and we are doing all we can in the Office of the Attorney General to prevent it.”
General Conway was joined today at the Scott County Ninth Grade School and Anderson County High School by Van Ingram, executive director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, and Mike Donta, a concerned parent who lost his son after a long battle with prescription drug abuse. Since launching the Keep Kentucky Kids Safe program in 2010 with the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, Kentucky Pharmacists Association, National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI), Operation UNITE and concerned parents, General Conway and his partners have alerted approximately 40,000 students, teachers, and parents to the dangers of abusing prescription drugs and heroin.
“No parent should have to endure the heartache of burying a child,” Donta told the students. “If you choose to take prescription pills that aren’t prescribed to you by a doctor, there’s a good chance you will end up just like my son.”
Nationally, prescription painkillers are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. In 2012, there were about 220 million doses of the highly addictive painkiller hydrocodone dispensed in Kentucky. Additionally, a report by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health lists Kentucky as having the third-highest rate of fatal overdoses in the country – the vast majority from prescription pills.
Heroin, however, is rapidly replacing prescription painkillers as the drug of choice in many parts of Kentucky because it is also an opiate, it’s cheaper to get, and it mimics the same high people get from crushing and injecting opioid painkillers. According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, statewide heroin overdose deaths increased by 650 percent in 2012. In December, General Conway, along with Sen. Katie Stine and Rep. John Tilley, announced bipartisan legislation created to stop this disturbing trend. The bill, which was introduced during the 2014 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly, increases punishment for heroin traffickers, promotes treatment for addicts, and increases public awareness and education.
“We are very thankful to have Attorney General Conway, along with Mike Donta and Van Ingram, visit our school and help us educate our students about the real-life tragedies that can occur when illicit drugs are used,” said Dwayne Ellison, principal at Scott County Ninth Grade School. “Peer pressure can be a daily struggle for children, and positive role models are vital in order to help them lead healthy and productive lives. I am glad that keeping our kids safe is one of General Conway’s top priorities.”
“Our students today are faced with a multitude of negative influences, including substance abuse,” added Chris Glass, principal at Anderson County High School. “Any time we are presented with an opportunity to discuss these negative influences and better ways to handle such situations, we seize them, and the Keep Kentucky Kids Safe presentation was a great chance for us to educate our students about what they may face and how they can react to these situations.”
Kentucky continues to make progress in its fight against the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. According to the 2012 Kentucky Incentives for Prevention School Survey, the percentage of Kentucky teens misusing prescription drugs has dropped dramatically over the past four years.
Additionally, the latest report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows the non-medical use of prescription pain relievers among all age groups in Kentucky is down and for the first time, the state is below the national average for prescription drug abuse.
Prescription Drug Diversion Efforts Attorney General Conway launched Kentucky’s first and only statewide Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force in August of 2009. The task force has been involved in more than 450 prescription drug diversion investigations, including Operation Flamingo Road, the state’s largest prescription drug bust that resulted in the arrest of more than 500 people.
General Conway also worked closely with Governor Beshear, House Speaker Stumbo, Senate President Stivers and other lawmakers to win passage of landmark legislation in 2012 to prevent the abuse and diversion of prescription pills in the Commonwealth. Since passage of HB 1, overdose deaths in Kentucky declined for the first time in a decade and more than half of the state’s pain management clinics have closed their doors.
In January 2014, General Conway announced that more than $32 million recovered in settlements with two pharmaceutical companies is being used throughout Kentucky to expand substance abuse treatment, including opiate addictions. The settlement funds will create a new treatment center for adults, treatment scholarships, a grant program for new juvenile treatment beds and/or centers, and expanded services for juveniles.
In addition to the work being done here in the Commonwealth, Attorney General Conway reached across party lines to work with Attorney General Pam Bondi in Florida to ensure that her state implemented an electronic prescription drug monitoring system similar to Kentucky’s KASPER system. Together they have worked to shut down the pill pipeline between Florida and Kentucky and to see that all 50 states have prescription drug monitoring programs in place and that all of the programs can share data across state lines. General Conway and General Bondi serve as co-chairs of the National Association of Attorneys General Substance Abuse Committee.