Attorney General Jack Conway and his Keep Kentucky Kids Safe partners today alerted students in Knott County to the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. Joined by members of Operation UNITE, General Conway urged approximately 620 students at Knott County Central High School not to be the next generation lost to prescription painkiller abuse.


“These are some of the most addicting substances on the planet,” General Conway told the student body. “We’re losing more people to prescription drug overdoses than car accidents. If you take a pill that isn’t prescribed to you by a doctor, you are playing a very dangerous game.”


Nationally, prescription painkillers are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. A report released in October by Trust for America’s Health lists Kentucky as having the third-highest rate of fatal overdoses – the vast majority from prescription pills – in the country. Last year, there were about 220 million doses of the highly addictive painkiller hydrocodone dispensed in Kentucky. That’s 51 doses of the drug for every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth.


Additionally, heroin is rapidly replacing prescription painkillers as the drug of choice in many parts of Kentucky because it is also an opiate, it’s cheaper to get and it mimics the same high people get from crushing and injecting opioid painkillers.


“Prescription drug abuse and heroin are devastating families across the Commonwealth,” said Paul Hays, law enforcement director for UNITE. “Our Operation UNITE treatment referral line receives approximately 1200 calls per month and in eastern Kentucky, the average age of a person using drugs for the first time is 11-years-old.”


UNITE serves 32 counties in southern and eastern Kentucky, working to rid communities of illegal drug use, coordinate treatment for substance abusers and educate the public about the dangers of using drugs. Carl Varney, coalition coordinator for Operation UNITE, shared with Knott County Central High School students his personal story of overcoming prescription drug addiction.


“In high school, I found myself turning to alcohol and drugs,” Varney said. “Pain pills took control of my life. I started dealing drugs and ended up in jail. The decisions one makes in life, both good and bad, are the steps to success or failure. We must continue to educate our children about the dangers of these drugs and the consequences that come with them.”


Since launching the Keep Kentucky Kids Safe program in 2010 with the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, Kentucky Pharmacists Association, National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI), Operation UNITE and concerned parents, General Conway and his partners have alerted more than 30,000 students, teachers and parents to the dangers of abusing prescription drugs and heroin.


School leaders in Knott County praised the Keep Kentucky Kids Safe program and General Conway’s efforts to raise awareness among middle and high school students about a problem that is crippling the Commonwealth and killing Kentuckians.

"It is imperative that all students are aware of the dangers and consequences of illegal drugs and substance abuse,” said Robert Pollard, principal at Knott County Central High School. “We are very excited for this opportunity to partner with Attorney General Jack Conway to further educate our children about this important issue."

Today’s program comes amid clear signs that Kentucky is making progress in its fight against the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. According to the 2012 Kentucky Incentives for Prevention School Survey, the percentage of Kentucky teens misusing prescription drugs has dropped dramatically over the past four years.

Additionally, the latest report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows the non-medical use of prescription pain relievers among all age groups in Kentucky is down and for the first time, the state is below the national average for prescription drug abuse.


As part of the Keep Kentucky Kids Safe program, students are encouraged to participate in an annual statewide video PSA contest on the risks of prescription drug abuse. Also, high school seniors whose lives have been affected by this issue can now apply for the Sarah Shay and Michael Donta Memorial Scholarships. The scholarships were created this year to help Kentucky students who have excelled in their personal and academic lives despite seeing firsthand the devastating consequences of prescription drug abuse.


Prescription Drug Diversion Efforts

General Conway launched Kentucky’s first and only statewide Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force in August of 2009. The task force has been involved in more than 430 prescription drug diversion investigations, including Operation Flamingo Road, the state’s largest prescription drug bust that resulted in the arrest of more than 500 people.


General Conway also worked closely with Governor Beshear, House Speaker Stumbo, Senate President Stivers and other lawmakers to win passage of landmark legislation in 2012 to prevent the abuse and diversion of prescription pills in the Commonwealth. Since passage of HB 1, overdose deaths in Kentucky declined for the first time in a decade and half of the state’s pain management clinics have closed their doors.


In addition to the work being done here in the Commonwealth, Attorney General Conway reached across party lines to work with Attorney General Pam Bondi in Florida to ensure that her state implemented an electronic prescription drug monitoring system similar to Kentucky’s KASPER system. Together they have worked to shut down the pill pipeline between Florida and Kentucky and to see that all 50 states have prescription drug monitoring programs in place and that all of the programs can share data across state lines. General Conway and General Bondi serve as co-chairs of the National Association of Attorneys General Substance Abuse Committee.


Faces of Prescription Drug Abuse

Attorney General Conway invites Kentuckians of all ages to share their stories about how prescription drug addiction has affected their families and communities through his “Faces of Prescription Drug Abuse” video series. Videos may be submitted by visiting the Attorney General’s website at http://ag.ky.gov/rxabuse.



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