Kentucky's struggle to help its citizens who suffer from dependency on drugs and alcohol recently reached an impressive goal when leaders of that struggle who are prominent in different political parties celebrated the official opening of a $5 million treatment center in Western Kentucky.
Housing 100 residents with addiction problems, the CenterPoint Recovery Center for Men in Paducah is the last of 10 supportive housing facilities — half for men, half for women — planned in the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher and finished by his successor Gov. Steve Beshear.
In one of the most acrimonious decades of national and state politics since Vietnam and Watergate, First Lady Jane Beshear, wife of the Democratic governor, and Don Ball, the Lexington developer and Republican fund-raiser, left politics behind and flew to Paducah together in a rainstorm in Ball's plane to cheer the center's staff and residents and present a $900,000 grant for operational expenses.
Despite the cloudy skies and on the ground the stirrings of a governor's race in which Ball and Beshear are on opposing sides, it was a sunny story at CenterPoint as the first lady lauded Ball for persuading Fletcher, a Republican, to launch the program, called Recovery Kentucky, when Ball was chairman of the Kentucky Housing Corporation.
If we had been asked to speak, which we weren't, members of the Recovery Kentucky Task Force, like myself, could have praised Beshear forretaining Ball as task force chairman and appointing the first lady as his cochair in a commendable commitment to making the program a bipartisan effort.
In my own experience fighting alcohol in my youth, friends in both political parties in Russellville — where I was a weekly newspaper editor who had trouble getting to work after weekend binges — pushed me toward a recovery group that met in the basement of a Christian church.
That was nearly 50 years ago, but the memory is so vivid I couldn't resist sharing it with some newcomers to sobriety in Paducah.
"I've been where you've been," I told them. "It's a program of hope, it works if you work it."
Said Jane Beshear: "Over 44,000 Kentuckians over the age of 26 are dependent on drugs and alcohol. Recovery Kentucky centers are vital for the state to be able to assist individuals suffering from this disease."
Some 4,000 men and women have received recovery services in these centers since the program began four years ago. Major assistance will now come as a result of House Bill 463 enacted by the legislature this year.
It rewrites much of Kentucky's criminal code to reduce prison and jail crowding by cutting prison time for low-risk, non-violent drug offenders and reinvests the savings from prison costs into recovery opportunities for offenders who need help, says Ball.
The legislation is expected to save about $42 million a year in corrections costs.
Construction of the Paducah center, partly with federal stimulus dollars, was finished in December. Four more centers will be built in the next four years, said Richard McQuady, KHC chief executive officer.
Recovery Kentucky is a joint effort by the Department of Local Government, the Department of Corrections and KHC.
As supportive housing developments, each center will use a recovery model that includes peer support, daily living skills training, job responsibilities and challenges to practice sober living.
Counselors, many of whom are themselves recovering from substance abuse problems, use the 12-Step program of principles for sobriety made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous.
The first lady also presented $1.5 million in new operational funding for six of the older Recovery Kentucky Centers — $250,000 each to help with costs at Erlanger, Henderson, Evarts, Florence, Richmond and Hopkinsville.
Local communities will all be asked to contribute money for these programs, said McQuady, but the startup operating costs come from the federal Community Development Block Grant program.
The recovery rate in some centers is 60 percent, an achievement within reach of all who suffer in a state plagued with substance abuse but now blessed with opportunities for change.