MANCHESTER — Offering solutions to the state – and national — drug addiction problem was the focus of state and national leaders as Vice President Mike Pence announced a $400 million allocation of federal grant money to solving the drug epidemic nationwide and $10 million of that coming to Kentucky.

Pence, along with Congressman Hal Rogers, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, addressed the issues of substance abuse and addiction as well as informing the public of the steps being taken to resolve the issue. They also announced new training programs that offer a two-fold purpose.

The announcements were made at an invite-only event at Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester campus in Clay County Thursday afternoon.

Pence announced the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has allocated $400 million to combat the drug epidemic and that Kentucky would receive $10 million of that amount to continue services to assist those dealing with abuse and addiction.

“Today the truth is we need help now more than ever in our rural areas because today we are in the midst of fighting the deadliest drug crisis in the history of this country,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to say that nearly 200 Americans — every day — lose their life to drug overdoses. There is no community that has been spared, no state that has been spared.”

“Tougher laws and enforcement is not the only solution to the problem,” Pence said, before giving out some stark statistics about the drug problem in the state.

“From October 2008 to 2017, opioid overdoses cases in Kentucky tripled, heroin-related deaths increased 22-fold, meth-related overdose deaths increased 20-fold. We are now investing more than we ever have," Pence said. "There has been $79 million delegated by Gov. Bevin, there have been hundreds of millions for research and prevention."

Pence said $131 million drug control grants have been given, just in Kentucky. He said the results are 34 percent fewer opioid prescriptions during this administration, overdose deaths have decreased by nearly 5 percent across the country, and overdose deaths in Kentucky have decreased by nearly 15 percent.

Rogers credited the people of Manchester for their initial stand against the epidemic over 20 years ago — the act from which Operation UNITE arose.

Azar touted the efforts made across Kentucky to battle the opioid epidemic, saying he had worked with Gov. Bevin through a program known as Healing Communities that was launched in several other states as well. He said that program had been successful across the Commonwealth and that another program was being launched in southeastern Kentucky.

“We’ve had success and another facility will be opened in Knox County that is a key piece of the substance abuse recovery,” Azar said. “The number of patients that have completed the Gold Standard Opioid Treatment program — medication-assisted treatment — has increased 142 percent from 2016 to 2018.”

Bevin also explained what steps have been taken at the state level to address the drug abuse and addiction problem.

“Every one of us is only about 1 degree of separation away from addiction or death,” he said. “But thanks to our legislators, some who are here today, we got the passage of House Bill 33." In Kentucky now a person can only get a three-day initial prescription for a prescribed opioid.

Another means to deal with the addiction problem is a program known as Angel Addiction. Bevin said that program allows a family member or friend to bring an addicted person to any Kentucky State Police post and ask for help and the person will not be charged criminally but will receive help. He offered the following information to assist those needing help: FINDHELPNOWKY.org or 1-833-8KY-HELP. A live person on the other end of that line will assist callers.

Pence was adamant about the need for those dealing with addiction to seek help.

“Anyone out there that is caught up in drug abuse and addiction — there is help. Reach out,” he said. “This community, this state and this nation want you to make your way back.”

Prior to the announcement the group was first briefed on the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program. Rogers praised the program that not only allows residents of rural areas to receive additional health services, it also trains military medical staff in how to assist those in need.

“Our military reserve medical troops are hosting clinics in Manchester, Barbourville, Annville, Oneida and Hyden through August 10 providing free medical services from health screenings to free prescription eye glasses. This is an incredible program that only helps our families but also provides training for our troops,” he said.

Bevin also praised the new program that brought approximately 150 people from more than 20 different states across America to serve in southeastern Kentucky.

“You’re in God’s country here,” Bevin said. “We love God and our country and we sure love our military.”

Pence spoke about the IRT program operated by military medical staff and Trump’s support of our national defense.

“Rest assured, the Commander-in-Chief will always have your back. He just signed the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan and that included the largest pay raise ever to our military,” Pence told the crowd of over 150. “The IRT program plays a key role in improving the health of our communities and is benefitting our military. It’s also making a difference in lives of people of southeastern Kentucky. Our trained military staff is coming here, doing training here, and impacting the quality of life for many Kentuckians.

Last year, Operation Bobcat provided 11,000 to more than 2,600 people in four counties.

“Now as I stand here today, Operation Coal Country involves more than 150 great military professionals who are providing service to people right here in southeast Kentucky," Pence said. "Our military has to train to be ready, so we asked why don’t you come here and provide these services. And IRT has already saved Kentuckians $600,000 in health care costs.”

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