Human toll of drug abuse has tangible measure

Just two weeks ago, an 18-year old woman left a high school football game in her hometown. She could not have known that, just moments after cheering on her football team and spending time with friends and family, the car she was driving would be hit during the high speed chase of a man allegedly high on LSD with illegal drugs in his car. Her death is a tragedy, but she is not alone. I want to honor this young woman's life, while also recognizing that tragic stories like this are all too common in our state and in our community.

Over the past decade, our state has battled methamphetamines, opioids, heroin and other drugs. Our policies are constantly evolving, yet drug abuse continues to snatch lives away from families, end bright futures, and drive more children into foster care. I know not one person who does not know the pain of a family member or friend's addiction. It is a priority for me to not only address the root causes of drug use and provide help for those who need it, but also to ensure that we are punishing the individuals and companies who traffic harmful drugs into our communities.

The human toll of this epidemic cannot be overstated. According to the Office of Drug Control Policy, 1,333 Kentuckians died of a drug overdose in 2018. That's 1,333 of our citizens deprived of life and the opportunities afforded by it. And that number does not even include innocent bystanders whose life was taken because of another person's drug use leading them behind the wheel of a car.

The silver lining of this ongoing epidemic is that direct drug fatalities are decreasing in the Commonwealth. While still far too high, the 1,333 drug fatalities of 2018 were actually down from a record high 1,566 in 2017, when the epidemic of opioid abuse, heroin and fentanyl hit its peak. An increased focus on this critical issue by legislators, Governor Bevin, and President Trump created this nearly 15 percent reduction in fatality rates, and our work is just beginning.

In fact, Vice President Mike Pence recently came to Kentucky to announce the distribution of over $9 million in grant money to help us fight the opioid epidemic. This includes money for treatment and prevention services, funding for community health centers, drug research at universities and much more. Our state has been one of the hardest hit by this nationwide epidemic creating an urgency for lawmakers to partner with law enforcement, advocates, and others to tackle this issue.

The $9 million investment by President Trump into our communities follows accomplishments on the state level to ensure that treatment options are available for those in need and to punish drug traffickers. This includes strengthening sentences for dealers of dangerous drugs like heroin, while also increasing the availability of live-saving drugs like Narcan and limiting the supply of addictive pain medicines, as long as they are not medically necessary.

The opioid epidemic affects us in other ways as well. It drives more and more children into the foster care system every year, destabilizing the lives of many of our young people and creating a further strain on state resources. Drug addiction also affects our workforce, making many of our citizens' unemployable at a time when the economy is in many ways thriving.

But while there are numerous consequences of this epidemic, the human toll is the most disheartening. In order to see fewer of our families have to grieve over the loss of a loved one, it is a priority for me to do more to punish dealers, expand treatment, and continue our efforts to stop the drug epidemic in its' tracks. Our families deserve nothing less. While the life of Jill Hurst cannot be brought back, it can serve as a reminder of the damaging, life-altering consequences of drug addiction.

As always, I can be reached at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Chris.Freeland@lrc.ky.gov. You can also keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov. You can follow me on Facebook @Chris Freeland 6th District State Representative.