“Those we are losing to the opioid epidemic are our children, our siblings, our friends, our neighbors and our fellow Americans,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, in prepared remarks to an audience at the University of Kentucky on Tuesday. The head of the Justice Department was in Kentucky for two events organized to galvanize public support for a renewed campaign to end the national heroin and prescription opioid epidemic.
Earlier in the day, Attorney General Lynch spoke at Madison Central High School, focusing on the problems that these drugs are creating for students and parents. According to WKYT, she observed that 1200 people had died from overdoses in Kentucky in 2015, while she presented new initiatives by the Justice Department to reverse the alarming drug crisis.
Heroin epidemic awareness the focus of week-long national campaign by Obama administration
The events in Kentucky were part of what the Obama administration has deemed “Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.” The week of awareness has had the attorney general and other officials from the Justice Department traveling the country to hold many events like those in Richmond and Lexington on Tuesday. Kentucky was one of the first stops on the campaign, perhaps due to the unique level of damage that the drugs are wreaking on many parts of the state. In her remarks to UK, Attorney General Lynch noted both the severity of Kentucky’s heroin and opioid crisis, and the great strides that the state has already made in dealing with the epidemic.
Still, the opioid problem is not going away. The attorney general’s speech contained the statistic that 3.8 million Americans age 12 and over are misusing prescription opioid drugs. The administration’s recognition of the need to address the ongoing crisis has led to the announcement of some new initiatives at both national and regional/ local levels.
New initiatives in heroin epidemic awareness campaign include better monitoring, cracking down on major traffickers, and addiction education for teens
Some of the new policy initiatives focused on improving prescription drug monitoring programs in order to decrease rates of drug misuse. For those efforts, $8.8 million in new grant funding is being allocated to 20 different organizations across the country, including Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Attorney General Lynch hammered the point that improvements in data sharing between states’ Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs would be a focus of the new efforts.
Attorney General Lynch, the nation’s top law enforcement official, also discussed efforts by the DEA and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to crack down on major drug networks in order to stop the frenzied supply of dangerous substances like fentanyl reaching areas that are struggling under the weight of addiction. She noted that there are current expansions underway in investigations into major heroin and opioid traffickers.
Another new initiative discussed by the attorney general was “Operation Prevention,” a curriculum that will be distributed to high school students and parents. The materials will present awareness and prevention practices for keeping dangerous substances out of the hands of teenagers. As for improving access to treatment, an initiative by the Department of Agriculture will focus on bringing telemedicine consultations by addiction physicians to rural, hard-to-reach areas.
“We are neither helpless nor hopeless,” said Attorney General Lynch in her closing remarks at UK. It’s a message that many Kentuckians desperately need to hear—that there is hope. But Kentucky also needs action, and we’ll continue to follow new initiatives to provide solutions to the epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction and overdose.