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Friday, February 03, 2012

We Join Louisville Courier Journal In Decrying "A Sea Of Drugs" Which, According To Governor Steve Beshear, Is "Literally Killing Our [Kentucky] People"!

Editorial | A sea of drugs

The summit Wednesday at the University of Kentucky on prescription drug abuse and addiction captured the severity and extent of an appalling problem.

Buttressed by shocking statistics — such as that more than 1,000 Kentuckians lose their lives to prescription drug abuse each year, more than in the state’s traffic accidents — and heartbreaking personal stories of the tragic toll of addiction, officials appropriately stressed the urgency of stronger reaction.

Gov. Steve Beshear said the state’s drug problem is “literally killing our people” and appropriately pledged that the issue would be a top priority that must receive a united, aggressive and rapid response.

The Governor said he is working with state Attorney General Jack Conway and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, on a wide-ranging bill to be introduced soon in the General Assembly. Mr. Conway expects the bill to require some doctors and other prescribers to use the state’s KASPER monitoring system system and to mandate KASPER checks before certain medications are prescribed to patients in emergency rooms.

There is also progress in reducing the flood of drugs from pain clinics in Florida, after the Sunshine State finally tightened its lax regulation of unscrupulous medical centers and doctors. The Florida measures strengthened penalties on rogue doctors who over-prescribe painkillers and beefed up rules for prescriptions and pain treatments.

Rigorous law enforcement and severe penalties for pill-pushing physicians, including permanent loss of medical licenses and potential jail time, are certainly an important part of the drug-fighting equation — in Kentucky, Florida and elsewhere. Indeed, police and court actions have been stepped up, including a Jan. 25 raid on a Paintsville pain clinic that resulted in 29 arrests. A former doctor at the clinic was arrested last year in an earlier raid and pleaded guilty in December to a federal charge of conspiring to illegally prescribe about 50,000 tablets of Percocet, a highly addictive narcotic pain-reliever.

However, from Prohibition forward, arrests and prosecutions have never succeeded by themselves in stamping out drug problems, and it would be futile now to rely solely on enforcement crackdowns. Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brent Turner estimated that at least 5,000 of his county’s 40,000 residents are involved in prescription pill trafficking in some way. Statewide, such numbers would overwhelm police departments and corrections systems.

The strategy must also incorporate sophisticated education and treatment efforts.

Such approaches — which are already tried in some areas — need to be expanded into comprehensive programs across the state to teach parents, families, educators and employers how to identify signs of drug abuse, and how to intervene effectively. Public service messages could debunk harmful myths — such as that an addict must “hit bottom” before help is possible, or that a failed recovery effort means that it’s pointless to try again, or that treatment must be voluntary to succeed. Judges around the state should be able to follow the model of Jefferson County’s drug courts and sentence users directly to treatment programs instead of jails.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s federal representatives should be pushing hard for more effective national monitoring of drug production and distribution. There is no justification for manufacturing quantities of painkillers far in excess of legitimate need.

Such a broad undertaking will cost money, but funds must be found even in austere times to confront what Gov. Beshear rightly called “a corrosive evil.”



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