By Amanda Van Benschoten
Local law enforcement agencies rely heavily on federal grants for drug enforcement, police and prosecutors told Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway Wednesday.
"If you cut federal funding, these things won't be funded," said longtime Pendleton County Attorney Jeffery Dean. "There's no money locally to fight the drug war."
Conway, the state's attorney general, held an hour-long roundtable discussion Wednesday with two dozen police, prosecutors and elected officials from Pendleton, Harrison, Grant and Bracken counties.
He did more listening than talking as the officials shared their struggles with investigating and prosecuting drug offenses in an age of ever-shrinking resources.
"I'm not just a politician who's up here giving a trite speech about the war on drugs," he told them. "We need a United States senator who understands that we need federal funding for treatment, we need federal funding for law enforcement investigators, and we need a collaborative approach of federal, state and local (resources) to deal with the drug problem."
He called his Republican opponent, Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul, "naïve" for saying drug enforcement should be handled with local, not federal, resources and for saying that drugs are "not a real pressing issue" in Eastern Kentucky, where the prescription drug problem is so severe that some pharmacists work behind bulletproof glass.
Paul's press secretary did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Paul has criticized Conway for an increase in methamphetamine labs since he took office in 2007, an attack Conway also called "naïve" because his office doesn't investigate meth labs.
Prescription drugs, meth and heroin are an increasing problem across the counties that make up the southern belt of the Northern Kentucky region, the officials said.
In 2009, the eight-county Northern Kentucky Area Development District ranked third in the state in the number of drug arrests, according to the Kentucky State Police.
There were more than 61,000 drug arrests across Kentucky last year, including 180 in Pendleton County.
"With 61,000 drug arrests last year, how anybody can say drugs are not a problem in this state -- it's mind-boggling to me," said Pendleton County Sheriff Craig Peoples.
Each of the officials at the roundtable said federal funding plays a crucial role in conducting drug investigations, which are time-consuming and expensive because they often require overtime pay and undercover drug buys.
"To us, the funding's huge, because we'd have the budgetary means to fight the problem like you need to fight the problem," said Falmouth Police Chief Mark Posey.
Law enforcement agencies also face an increasing shortage of resources, as federal and state grants and even local funding are being cut.
That makes federal aid for drug enforcement even more important, said Grant County Sheriff Chuck Dills.
"Without it, we can't make a difference at all," he said.
Both Conway and Paul will be in Northern Kentucky today (Thursday). Conway will open his NKY campaign headquarters at 4:30 p.m. at 467 Erlanger Road in Erlanger.
Paul will speak at a forum sponsored by the young professionals group Legacy at 11:30 a.m. at The Madison in Covington and attend a 5:30 p.m. fundraiser in Dayton.