Welcome aid in drug-abuse fight; court deal brings long-needed funds

At an August event in Manchester, people took photos of Operation UNITE's Wall of Hope, photos of those who had overcome drug addiction.
At an August event in Manchester, people took photos of Operation UNITE's Wall of Hope, photos of those who had overcome drug addiction.

Nothing demonstrates the power of market forces more vividly than the rise of heroin in Kentucky.

Legislators gave law enforcement the tools to effectively constrict the illicit flow of prescription narcotics, and, voila, the non-prescription narcotic quickly filled the gap in supply.

Attorney General Jack Conway has always been hawkish on the policing side of fighting drug abuse, but he also recognizes that law enforcement cannot defeat drug abuse.

Drug dependency is orphaning too many Kentucky children. And it can only be defeated by reducing demand, which is why Conway was smart to steer lawsuit settlement talks with two large pharmaceutical companies toward money for drug treatment, rehabilitation and prevention.

Merck and GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay more than $32 million total to settle lawsuits that Conway filed challenging their misrepresentations of the heart attack risks posed by the anti-inflammatory Vioxx and the diabetes drug Avandia respectively.

The agreement, formalized as a Franklin Circuit Court order, steers the biggest chunk of the settlement funds — $19 million — into a grant program to fund treatment options for juveniles.

Another $4.5 million will go toward facilities, funding and housing for adults recovering from substance abuse, including $2 million to support substance abuse treatment for pregnant women by Chrysalis House in Lexington and Independence House in Corbin.

The settlement will provide $6 million to upgrade the state's electronic prescription drug monitoring system, $1.5 million to the University of Kentucky to develop best practices for juvenile substance abuse treatment, $1 million to develop a school-based substance abuse screening tool to intervene with at-risk youngsters before they enter judicial and social services systems and $250,000 to create a database to evaluate the outcomes of juvenile treatment programs.

This infusion of seed money to expand treatment capacity could not come at a more propitious time. Kentucky has only one-tenth of the substance-abuse treatment beds it needs.

But because of the federal Affordable Care Act and the state's Medicaid expansion, Medicaid will for the first time in Kentucky begin routinely covering the cost of drug treatment.

The advent of this reliable revenue stream will encourage the opening of more drug treatment centers, something Kentucky has desperately needed for a long time.

The provisions of this settlement, including creation of an advisory committee to oversee the disbursement of funds and the evaluation of treatment programs, will help ensure the new money for treating substance abuse is put to an effective use.