The popularity of Kentucky's U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has been in question the past few years. I guess we will see how that shakes out in the 2020 election season.
But one cannot deny his determination to battle the opioid scourge in Kentucky -- it's rivaled only by our own Congressman Hal Rogers.
On Wednesday, McConnell and the White House announced a $1.8 billion federal initiative to be divided among states to help combat the opioid epidemic. Kentucky will receive $31.48 million next year, and close to $80 million over a two-year period, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the State Opioid Response Grants Program.
The funds headed for Kentucky are due to McConnell's hard work on the opioid issue. This program was created by the 21st Century Cures (CURES) Act that McConnell shepherded through Congress in 2016.
As it is with Rogers, beating back the damage opioids has done to Kentucky is a fight near and dear to McConnell's heart.
"Kentucky is leading the national response to the devastating opioid epidemic, and the federal resources announced today will reinforce their life-saving work," said McConnell. "As Senate Majority Leader, I helped ensure these funds are directed to the hardest-hit states, including Kentucky, where they can have the greatest impact."
Said Rogers: "Kentucky has made significant strides to reduce overdose deaths and this funding doubles down on our efforts to drive those numbers down even further."
The work done by men like Rogers and McConnell is already paying off. Nationwide, the number of drug-related overdose deaths declined by 5 percent in 2018, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In Kentucky, they dropped by an even more encouraging 15 percent.
"The recent reduction in Kentucky overdose deaths has demonstrated that the increased support from our federal partners is making a huge difference in the Commonwealth," said Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. "We're grateful to Senator McConnell for his leadership and commitment to protecting this crucial federal funding to fight addiction in Kentucky communities."
Indeed, the Trump Administration deserves a pat on the back as well for tackling this nationwide problem. Just last month during a stop in Manchester, Ky., Vice President Mike Pence joined Rogers to announce $10 million in grant money for research on the opioid crisis.
Yesterday Trump himself said "nothing is more important than defeating the opioid and addiction crisis."
"Thanks to President Trump's leadership and the hard work of so many Americans in local communities, we are beginning to win the battle against the opioid overdose crisis," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. "We will continue executing on the Department's 5-Point strategy for combating the opioid crisis, and laying the foundation for a healthcare system where every American can access the mental healthcare they need."
McConnell recently worked with the University of Kentucky to help secure an $87 million federal competitive grant to address the opioid crisis in high-risk communities. He has also helped secure inclusion of some of Kentucky's hardest-hit counties in the Office of National Drug Control Policy's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program to promote coordination and support for law enforcement in Kentucky.
Last year, President Trump signed into law the landmark opioid and substance abuse bill McConnell helped push through Congress. The measure included the Senator's CAREER Act, which recognizes that steady employment and safe housing are critical to long-term recovery. The President also signed into law the Senator's Protecting Moms and Infants Act, which authorized an increase in federal funding to help babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
And McConnell vows he won't stop battling until the opioid crisis has ended.
"Although our Commonwealth recently marked the largest decline in overdose deaths in over a decade, important work remains," McConnell said on Wednesday. "The Trump administration and I will continue our commitment to providing federal support to address the scourge of substance abuse with comprehensive solutions. We'll continue working together to help more Kentuckians maintain long-term recovery and to save lives."
It is certainly a battle worth fighting. These drugs have taken far too many lives and have destroyed far too many families across our region.
"It takes all of us working together, at the federal, state and local levels to combat the national opioid crisis and ultimately save lives from this deadly scourge," Rogers said. " I appreciate HHS for investing in Kentucky's efforts and opening access to more resources."
Today we can be a little more optimistic that eventually this battle will be won.
JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.