When I was elected your attorney general six years ago, I made stopping prescription drug abuse one of my top priorities. I created Kentucky's first statewide prescription drug task force and helped craft landmark legislation that has shut down half of this state's pain clinics.
From a law enforcement perspective, we've made tremendous strides. Yet still, too many of our citizens abuse prescription pills, and other opiates, like heroin, are on the rise.
We can't just be tough on this issue. We must be smart. One thing became clear as I heard the personal accounts of Kentuckians touched by prescription drug abuse — we cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem.
More cells won't put a stop to stories like the one from a little girl in Pike County who I saw sobbing because, when the school bus dropped her off, there was an ambulance in front of her house. That's how she found out her father had died from a prescription drug overdose.
We need this next generation to avoid some of the choices their parents made. That's why I've traveled across the commonwealth warning young people about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. I've presented our message to 40,000 students, parents and teachers.
In addition to education, we must invest in treatment if we're going to stop this cycle of addiction. I've always felt pharmaceutical companies should pay to treat the addiction they helped fuel. Pharmaceutical companies recorded incredible profits while spending millions to fraudulently market and conceal from doctors the highly addictive nature of new opiate painkillers they wanted them to prescribe.
Although the two recent settlements did not involve opiate painkillers, I felt strongly that the $32 million from settlements I negotiated with the industry should be used to expand treatment in Kentucky. The court order directed me to use the proceeds for public health purposes, including substance abuse treatment.
In accordance with that order, the money will help create a treatment center for adults, treatment scholarships and a grant program for new juvenile treatment beds or centers.
Kentucky has one-tenth of the treatment beds it needs, so we are using $19 million for a grant program that will fund additional juvenile treatment beds and centers. Too often, parents are forced to wait months or go hours away from home to find a treatment bed. We will maximize these grants to fund the most promising, sustainable and needed treatment proposals brought to us by the nonprofits, providers and public-private partnerships throughout Kentucky.
The plan also provides $2.52 million in scholarships for those who cannot afford treatment. We anticipate awarding 840 scholarships to Recovery Kentucky centers.
We will use $560,000 over two years to create 14 recovery homes for people completing and transitioning out of residential substance abuse treatment programs. And $500,000 from the settlement will be used to complete the construction of a Recovery Kentucky Center in Boyd County, one of our most underserved areas.
My friend, Mike Donta, is from Ashland and lost his son to prescription drug abuse. He travels with me to our student assemblies. When Mike's son asked for help, he had to travel to Elizabethtown to find a treatment bed. I promised Mike that wouldn't have to happen anymore.
Finally, we will use $6 million to administer and upgrade KASPER, Kentucky's electronic prescription drug monitoring program; $1 million to Chrysalis House in Lexington and Independence House in Corbin to provide substance abuse treatment for pregnant women; $1 million to develop a substance-abuse screening tool with the Kentucky Department of Education to intervene with at-risk children; and $1.5 million to the University of Kentucky to train juvenile treatment providers.
Some lawmakers suggested that I should have allowed the legislature to appropriate these funds. While the legislature must appropriate tax revenues and fees, a judicial settlement with a court order directing payment is another matter entirely.
I will always fight to see pharmaceutical settlement money directed toward treatment, rather than grabbed to plug holes in our state's cash-strapped budget.
This is about people, not politics. And I believe this historic investment will save lives and can help save parts of this state that are riddled with addiction.
Jack Conway is Kentucky attorney general.