|Officials gather for community conversation
|By Kirby Haskins
Advocate staff writer
Substance abuse in Montgomery County was addressed at length May 13 as approximately 100 business, education, law enforcement and civic leaders met at the Clay Community Center for a “Community Conversation.”
The event—which was collaborative effort between Morehead State University at Mt. Sterling, Open Eyes Montgomery County, the Mt. Sterling-Montgomery County Industrial Authority and Chamber of Commerce and the Montgomery County Health Department—was designed, according to the event organizers, to define the economic, social and personal impact of substance abuse throughout the community.
Van Ingram, executive director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, served as the keynote speaker of the day-long session. Ingram commended local leaders for their efforts in hosting the forum, a small step, he said, that is necessary in combating substance abuse at the community level.
“We’re excited about these kind of grassroots efforts and they’re happening all over Kentucky,” Ingram said. “Frankfort can’t solve the Montgomery County drug problem. We can play a part in it, but we can’t solve it.”
That drug problem, according to information provided by Ingram during the event, is vast.
Kentucky, Ingram said, consistently ranks among the top five states for methamphetamine lab discoveries. In fact, he explained, in both 2006 and 2007 more than 36,000 meth labs were discovered in the state.
The state also ranks among the top three in the nation for marijuana destroyed by law enforcement and consistently ranks among the top four states for prescription drug abuse.
Ingram also noted that the number of overdose deaths in Kentucky increased by 164 percent between 1999 to 2004.
Also addressed was the infamous “Florida pipeline,” which has gained considerable attention through the media in recent months. The pipeline has been used extensively by addicts and dealers who have flocked to unregulated pain clinics throughout Florida, where they can receive large quantities of prescription pills, which are then trafficked into Kentucky. Ingram said the distribution of drugs by these pain clinics has been a huge burden for Kentucky.
“To me, it’s drug dealing with a lab coat,” Ingram said of the clinics. “That’s all it is.”
Recently, the Florida General Assembly approved legislation that would implement a monitoring system to track the doses of pills prescribed in Florida, similar to the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system here. Though the legislation has passed, Ingram said the monitoring system will take time to implement and the effects on Kentucky’s drug problem won’t be seen immediately.
“That’s a step ... but that’s 18 months (to) two years away (from being effective).”
A number of other speakers participated during the forum, including Debbie May of RK Drugs, who detailed the signs and symptoms of drug abuse, and Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Beth Maze, who discussed the local Drug Court and the effects substance abuse has had on the judicial system. Local law enforcement personnel also spoke and personal stories of addiction were also shared by Adam Douglas and Ericka Mills.
Janet Kenney, director of MSU at Mt. Sterling, later told the Advocate that the personal testimonies were among the most memorable aspects of the forum. The testimonies show how, Kenney said, substance abuse can affect individuals of any background.
“I think the personal testimonies of the two really stand out because neither of them are people that you would automatically think about (being drug users),” Kenney said. “They were from good homes, they had supportive families, the whole thing.”
The testimonies detailed a vital lesson everyone should observe, Kenney said.
“We as family members, or employers or others relevant to those with substance abuse issues, have to stop being enablers,” Kenney said. “And that’s really hard to do if you have someone in your family with any kind of issue.”
A panel discussion—featuring Mt. Sterling Mayor Gary Williamson, Judge-Executive Floyd Arnold, Public Health Director Jan Chamness, Chamber of Commerce Director Sandy Romenesko and Montgomery County Fire-EMS Chief Larry Potter—was also held. Topics covered during the panel discussion included the financial costs substance abuse has on local emergency services and industry and the need for substance abuse education in schools.
Romenesko later told the Advocate that substance abuse doesn’t just affect the user and their families; its effects are far reaching.
“It’s a major issue in every area of the community,” Romenesko said. “I feel like drugs are going to take us down if we don’t do something. It’s a financial, social and economic issue we have to deal with.”
Romenesko said as director of the Chamber of Commerce she knows substance abuse can have a very negative impact on the county’s industrial base, as many businesses can’t find workers who can pass a required drug test or in some cases, businesses spend thousands of dollars training a worker only to lose them to addiction.
Hopefully, Romenesko said, the Community Conversation will start a larger dialogue that will help change things.
“I feel if our community does something and has some success with it ... then I think employers will look at us say ‘Hey, they are progressive and they have done things others communities haven’t done. Let’s go there and work. Let’s go there and grow our company. They are a community that knows how to get things done.’”
For more information, visit www.morehead state.edu/mtsterling/ and click on the link “Community Conversations” to find additional resources about beating substance abuse.
In related news, Christian Assembly of God Will host a public forum on substance abuse from 6-8 p.m. June 7. Supreme Court Justice Will Scott will be the keynote speaker.