It would be difficult to find a local elected official in Kentucky who doesn’t recognize prescription drug abuse as a major problem in his or her own community. The facts are staggering. According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy:
The abuse of prescription pain relievers is now only second to marijuana.
From 2006 to 2008, 96 of Kentucky’s 120 counties saw an increase in the rate of prescriptions dispensed for controlled substances. Of those 96 counties, 24 saw a 20 percent increase. Two counties saw an increase of more than 45 percent.
Prescription drug-related offenses increased more than 13 percent in 2008.
Although the statistics are overwhelming, the numbers do not even begin to scratch the surface of the slew of social and economic problems caused by prescription drug abuse. Theft, home invasions, robbery, increased violence, incarceration, expensive rehabilitation treatment, medical costs from overdoses and drug-related injuries all threaten the safety of citizens and affect the bottom line for taxpayers. Additionally, our communities absorb the economic impact of abusers’ time lost from work and increased demand on social welfare programs. Pill abuse affects every single citizen in my city — certainly not just the abuser.
Law enforcement officials have detected a “pill mill” pipeline as the source for many of the pills consumed illegally in Kentucky. Traffickers are known to travel to get prescriptions at pain clinics in Florida and then sell pain pills to abusers in Kentucky. Gov. Steve Beshear recently testified before Congress that law enforcement officers estimate 60 percent of illegal pain pills on the streets of Kentucky are from Florida.
Many eastern and central Kentucky city and county governments have banned, considered banning or otherwise regulated certain types of pain clinics, to try to keep out “pill mill” facilities that could potentially introduce even more pills into our communities.
Last week, the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General issued an advisory opinion that concluded that city and county governments are prohibited from banning or regulating pain clinics. The advisory opinion stated those ordinances that attempt to do so “are beyond the legitimate authority of a unit of local government.” The opinion carries no legal authority, but it does represent a major roadblock for local governments. It highlights the fact that local officials are limited to a reactive role in addressing the problems associated with prescription drug abuse. That’s unacceptable. Not only do the state and federal government need to take more aggressive action, but also local governments need to be empowered to protect their citizens.
When the General Assembly met this year, the Kentucky League of Cities strongly supported three different pieces of legislation sponsored by Sens. Jimmy Higdon, Ray Jones and Robin Webb that would have significantly tightened state oversight and prevented the proliferation of pill mills in our communities. Legislators also agreed that state and local partnerships are essential in policing this problem in a way that will actually help stem the epidemic.
It is unfortunate that none of the bills was considered, and the General Assembly will likely have to wait until 2012 to address the problem.
City officials throughout the state are committed to working with legislators, the Kentucky Medical Association and other interested parties to develop legislation that tackles prescription drug abuse head-on so that when the General Assembly convenes in January it can take the swift and decisive action needed to help us get a handle on the drug scourge plaguing our communities.
Ed Burtner is the mayor of Winchester and a member of the executive board of the Kentucky League of Cities.