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General Assembly update: Kentucky directing more resources to opioid crisis

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 — As Kentucky continues to struggle with an opioid-drug epidemic ravaging our communities, state government has marshaled its wide-ranging assets to combat the problem like never before.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Executive Director Van Ingram told a legislative panel this month that he has never witnessed such inter-agency cooperation – and urgency – to tackle the drug epidemic as he has in the last two years. And that is coming from a man who has served three governors – from both sides of the aisle.

This cooperation couldn’t come at a more critical time. Kentucky recorded a record 1,565 overdose deaths last year. Illicit fentanyl from China is what drove those numbers, Ingram said. The synthetic opioid was involved in 763 overdose deaths of Kentucky residents. That accounts for 52 percent of all deaths, up from 47 percent in 2016.

Fentanyl is so deadly because it is 10 times more powerful than heroin. A puff of it from closing a plastic bag is enough to send a full-grown adult to the emergency room.

That’s why the state decided to use some tobacco settlement agreement money, not already earmarked for farmers, to purchase Narcan. That medicine can stop a drug overdose in its tracks. It’s needed for addicts and first responders accidentally exposed to fentanyl.

The tobacco settlement money is also being used to fund our local Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) boards. These groups are really the heart of the community response to the opioid crisis. They can address whatever issue is most pressing in their communities. What the issue may be in Louisville may not be the issue in Liberty.

Casey, Jefferson, Marion, Nelson and Spencer counties each received $16,000 through their respective ASAP boards. These boards are made up almost entirely of volunteers. They work with community leaders, parents, youth, police and prevention/treatment specialists.

To make it easier for people to dispose of their expired or unwanted medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, the ASAP boards have also paid for prescription drop boxes in each of the counties I serve. For the drop box closest to you, click here.

Ingram said he is looking forward to doing more with tobacco settlement money in the coming year. The General Assembly budgeted an additional $5.5 million more than normal for next fiscal year.

Finally, I feel like I cannot conclude this column without voicing my concerns about the pay raise awarded to Kentucky Chief Information Officer (CIO). After being on the job less than a year, he now makes $375,000 per year, reportedly making him the highest-paid state CIO in the nation.

When the bill passed that included language exempting the CIO from state employee salary limitations, I never envisioned a 134 percent raise. That was not the legislative intent.

I am concerned about excessive raises for people in positions of public trust. I spoke out when the former Kentucky Retirement Systems executive director received a more than 25 percent raise in 2015. Just as I did then, I’m considering legislation requiring these types of pay raises to come before the General Assembly’s Government Contract Review Committee for legislative approval.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, is majority whip. He represents the 14th District that encompasses Casey, Marion, Nelson and Spencer counties as well as part of Jefferson County. He can be reached by calling his office in Frankfort at 502-564-8100, his home in Lebanon at 270-692-6945 or emailing him at senatorhigdon@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @SenatorJimmy or on the Web at www.jimmyhigdon.com.

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