Attorney General Jack Conway criticized his opponent in the U.S. Senate race Friday for saying drugs are not a pressing issue in Eastern Kentucky, but Republican Rand Paul's campaign said he does in fact consider drugs a serious problem.
A story in Friday's Herald-Leader that indicated Paul did not consider drug abuse a "real pressing issue" in Appalachian Kentucky misconstrued a remark Paul made, his campaign spokesman said.
"As a father and a physician, Dr. Paul understands that drugs are a serious problem facing Eastern Kentucky and agrees that we need a robust effort from government and local communities to combat it," his campaign said in a statement.
When Paul told The Associated Press that "I don't think it's a real pressing issue," he was responding to a question on whether voters would care who took the lead on enforcement efforts — the federal government or local governments, said his campaign spokesman, Gary Howard.
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Paul was not referring to the severity of the drug problem, his campaign said.
Paul said last month during a public appearance in Louisville that he would "rather see drug abuse and dependency treated and paid for at the local level."
He was addressing a question then on whether he supported Operation UNITE, which conducts drug investigations and provides money for drug treatment and anti-drug education in Eastern and southern Kentucky.
UNITE, which Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset started in 2003, is primarily federally funded.
Police and local elected officials in Eastern Kentucky said it would be unrealistic for them to fight drugs without help from the federal government because of their limited resources.
Several Central Kentucky sheriffs who appeared with Conway on Friday at a news conference in Lexington echoed that sentiment, saying federal funding pays for officers and equipment to help them fight drugs just as it does in Eastern Kentucky.
Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb said he was glad that Paul said he considers drugs a serious problem in the state. But Webb said local taxpayers could not pick up the tab to fight drugs.
"I'd like to know where the money's going to come from" in the absence of federal funding, Webb said.
Conway, the Democratic nominee, said cutting federal funds would cripple efforts to fight drugs.
"Rand Paul would literally put handcuffs on law enforcement when it comes to dealing with drug problems in this state," Conway said.
Paul's campaign manager said earlier that Paul would prefer to cut federal spending and taxes so there would be more money in Kentucky to deal with issues like drugs.
But Conway said cutting federal spending does not automatically equal more money for local governments.
"Just because (Paul) wants to starve the federal government, that doesn't mean that local law enforcement officers would have the resources to do their jobs," Conway said.
Conway touted his own efforts to fight drugs, including the involvement of his office last year in the largest drug roundup in state history, aimed at disrupting the flow of prescription pills into Kentucky from out of state.