Rogers has found allies in war against opioids

Jeff Neal

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers has spent a great deal of his nearly four decades in Washington fighting drug abuse and addiction in his Fifth Congressional District.

And there have certainly been ups and downs. There's been progress — and we've seen that progress stunted by a different type of drug that hits the streets.

The most deadly threat of all has been the abuse of prescription opioids that are so horribly addictive.

Opioid addiction has become an epidemic in Kentucky and neighboring states. But it's not just limited to those states now.

"While our region was certainly ground zero of the opioid crisis, it has tragically spread across the nation – taking 174 American lives every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," Rogers said. "We must work together to bring an end to this scourge."

In May, Rogers and Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Massachusetts, released a report faulting the World Health Organization for allegedly producing guidelines for painkiller use that were influenced by individuals and organizations with financial ties to drugmakers, singling out Purdue Pharma LP, which manufactures OxyContin. In June, the WHO withdrew the two prescription guidelines in question.

Rogers is a warrior. And he has found a willing partner in his battle in the Trump Administration.

Last week in Manchester, Ky., Vice President Mike Pence announced that $400 million from the Department of Health and Human Services has been earmarked to combat the opioid crisis. Of those funds, $10 million is going directly to Kentucky programs.

This is wonderful news for Rogers, who has toiled on the front line for years.

In 2003, Rogers founded Operation UNITE, a regional anti-drug initiative that empowers citizens groups and community leaders in 32 counties, most of which are within the Fifth Congressional District. Since that time, Rogers has secured billions of dollars to turn back drug trafficking in our communities.

“We’re making great strides to combat drug abuse in southern and eastern Kentucky, but our work is not finished," Rogers said last week after Pence's announcement. "I’m personally grateful that Vice President Mike Pence came to Manchester to see the impact that Operation UNITE and other programs are having in our region, and he didn’t arrive empty handed. Mr. Pence announced nearly $10 million more dollars will be invested in Kentucky through several federal grants.

"This funding will go a long way to support and enhance the on-going work to curb the opioid crisis and drive down overdose rates even further. Last year, the overdose death rate in Kentucky declined by 15 percent, which helps restore hope in a region where we’ve lost nearly an entire generation to opioid abuse," Rogers added. "We’ve learned that there isn’t a silver bullet that will end this complex crisis. Rather, it requires a holistic approach with law enforcement, treatment, research and education working in concert at the federal, state and local levels to impact real change that reunites families, saves lives and prevents addiction from ever starting. We’re blessed to have leaders like Vice President Pence who take the time to visit with our people and commit to help us face challenges together.”

The new funding is the latest effort of President Donald Trump's administration to make ending the opioid crisis a priority.

Since 2018, Trump has:

• Secured $6 billion in new funding over a two-year window to fight opioid abuse. The new $400 million is on top of that $6 billion.

• To curb over-prescription, the President implemented a Safer Prescribing Plan that will cut opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years.

• Trump is fighting to keep dangerous drugs out of the United States by securing land borders, ports of entry, and waterways against smuggling.

• In 2018, Trump worked with Congress to pass the SUPPORT Act, the single largest legislative package addressing a single drug crisis in history.

In Kentucky, the Gov. Matt Bevin administration has made attacking the opioid crisis a top priority, advancing a series of programs and policy initiatives to improve access to treatment and save lives. These efforts include utilizing grants and expanded funding to increase access and training for naloxone, limiting opioid prescriptions, expanding addiction treatment services for incarcerated individuals, constructing innovative public awareness resources, and launching the Kentucky State Police Angel Initiative.

You have seen the governor criticized in this column numerous times — but let's give credit where credit is due. Bevin has worked hard to win this fight.

Trump and his administration have worked hard to win this fight.

And as longtime soldier Congressman Hal Rogers will attest, it's a worthy battle, indeed.

JEFF NEAL is the editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.