Appalachia, as well as the state and nation at large, are facing an epidemic like no other — opioid addiction. So much so that President Trump recently officially declared the opioid epidemic to be a national emergency.
It is welcome news that this issue is finally being taken seriously, on all levels of government. Prescription drugs are ravaging our communities, and every single overdose is a stain on the fabric of our society. This truly is a national crisis, and one that has hit all corners of our country, including people of all ages and all incomes.
The rate at which generations are becoming addicted is alarming. Even worse, addiction to harmful substances is taking a large toll on one of the most vulnerable classes of our society — infants. According to JAMA Pediatrics, for every 1,000 newborns in Kentucky, 15 are born addicted. Drug overdoses are also the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, with opioids such as heroin and fentanyl being the primary drivers of drug overdoses.
This crisis, which has hit all types of communities, has not gone unnoticed. Every time you open the newspaper, there are stories about a deadly overdose, or about some sort of crime that was committed because of drugs. In the face of so much chaos, the drug scourge has also not gone unnoticed by policymakers.
Some serious steps have been taken to help combat this crisis in Frankfort, as well as by our federal delegation in Washington, D.C. We passed legislation in the House this past session to limit the supply of addictive prescription drugs that are not medically necessary, as well as to improve the state’s prescription drug monitoring system and stiffen penalties for drug traffickers. Governor Matt Bevin signed all of these measures into law.
The federal government also authorized $1 billion in funds for opioid abuse treatment and prevention near the end of last year, and we finally have leaders in our nation’s Capital who are taking an active role in this fight. But we have monumental challenges on this issue ahead of us, leaving much to tackle.
It’s easy to realize the burden that drug addiction places on children and families. Broken homes and neglected children are direct results of this epidemic, but there are other far-reaching consequences stemming from drug abuse.
While the true promise of America has always centered around finding a good job to support your family, the American Dream has been threatened by the drug epidemic. Many of our citizens are simply unemployable now due to the inability to pass a drug test. This leaves more people dependent on government services instead of working, and keeps business owners from being able to maintain a strong and healthy workforce.
This is a major reason why I have pushed so far for an essential skills curriculum in our schools, which would educate our young people about the importance of remaining drug free, as well as knowing what being a working adult entails. Continuing to create new economic opportunities is also vital to creating a better quality of life for all.
In addition to working to prevent opioid addiction from further taking root in our communities, I will also continue to push for safe and effective forms of drug treatment. Many of our counties are already taking the lead on this, implementing innovative new techniques that will go far in tackling this epidemic. I highly value the work and considerations of our local officials when crafting policy for the entire state.
In order for me to continue working to solve difficult issues, it is imperative that I receive feedback from you. Please do not hesitate to contact me via email at Jonathan.Shell@lrc.ky.gov, or by phone to my office at ?1-800-372-7181 with any questions or concerns.
Rep. Jonathan Shell is the Majority Floor Leader in the State House of Representatives. He represents the 71st district, which includes western Madison as well as all of Garrard and Rockcastle counties.