Kentucky on the Frontline of Opioid and Addiction Response

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R)-Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader
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KENTUCKY (WBKO) -- Coordinated efforts at the federal, state and local levels are making considerable progress in the fight against opioid and substance abuse. Unfortunately, Kentucky still ranks among the hardest-hit states in the nation. Reports continue to show record-breaking overdose deaths in our Commonwealth, and families are struggling as they watch their loved ones battle addiction.

Our prevention, treatment and enforcement work is more important than ever, and I’m proud of steps we’re taking to help save lives. Kentucky may be at the center of the addiction crisis, but it’s also the home to national leaders and cutting-edge treatments that are making a real difference.

I invited President Trump’s Drug Czar—the federal official responsible for coordinating the national response—to join me in Kentucky to hear from those on the frontlines. During his time in the Bluegrass State, Director Jim Carroll visited with treatment professionals and law enforcement officers in Louisville, Covington and Lexington to hear about their innovative work and successful programs.

Together, Director Carroll and I visited Volunteers of America’s Freedom House in Louisville. Under the strong leadership of Jennifer Hancock, this facility provides residential recovery services to veterans, new and expecting mothers and their precious babies. A group of these moms joined our event with their children, showing us both the face of addiction and the incredible hope found in recovery.

The landmark opioid bill I helped shepherd to enactment last year included a provision I wrote to address the tragedy of babies born with addiction. I’m proud to see organizations like Freedom House use that law’s grant program to help those in recovery. Because of its success in Louisville, Jennifer Hancock and her team are opening a new center in Clay County to deliver much-needed treatment access in Southeast Kentucky.

In Covington, Director Carroll and I toured the Kenton County Detention Center’s first-in-the-nation “Start Strong” initiative. The program—which includes treatment as well as job training—aims to break the ongoing cycle of addiction and incarceration by helping individuals in recovery turn their lives around.

With local leaders, we heard several powerful stories from those working to overcome addiction. As one of the participants shared his story with me, a Detention Center employee burst into tears of pride at this individual’s recovery. Because of the program, about 80% of these inmates have jobs waiting for them after they leave detention.

Addiction is a comprehensive problem, requiring wrap-around services that don’t end when an individual completes formal treatment. Experts agree that steady employment and transitional housing are both critical to long-term recovery. Last year, I introduced the “CAREER Act,” which recognizes this vital connection and encourages partnerships to help those in recovery rebuild their lives and stay sober. Congressman Andy Barr introduced the companion bill in the House.

After President Trump signed my bill into law, I wrote and called U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson to share how he could implement these transitional housing programs to do the most good in Kentucky.

I’ve had the privilege to host previous Drug Czars in Kentucky because it’s important that our federal officials see firsthand both the challenges we face and the innovative work being done in the Commonwealth. Further, since I became Senate Majority Leader, federal funding to fight the epidemic of addiction has increased more than 1,300%. In addition to the tens of millions of dollars I’ve secured to address this issue in Kentucky, I championed the State Opioid Response grant program that recently delivered $16 million more to expand access to evidence-based addiction treatment in our Commonwealth.

Competitive federal grants help deliver resources directly to communities as they fight substance abuse. For facilities like Lexington’s Chrysalis House, which I helped secure a $2.6 million federal grant, these additional resources can bolster services and assist those in need. If you’re applying for a competitive federal grant, please call my office at (502) 582-6304 so I can help.

I’m grateful Director Carroll accepted my invitation to come to Kentucky, and I was proud to show him our Commonwealth’s leading programs. We remain on the cutting-edge of addiction recovery, and I’ll continue doing my part to support this vital work so together we can help save lives.