By Congressman Hal Rogers
This month marks the 10th Anniversary of Operation U.N.I.T.E., launched to tackle the pain pill epidemic that swept through our region. Born in church pews, high school football bleachers and community centers, U.nlawful N.arcotics I.nvestigations, T.reatment and E.ducation was ignited by parents, preachers, teachers and police officers who joined arms to fight this scourge from the bottom-up.
In those early, dark days, we were deemed the nation's "Painkiller Capital." Our hospitals were overrun, pharmacies were being robbed, and local police, doctors, and school counselors were simply ill-equipped for this insidious drug epidemic. I remember talking with community leaders who were ready to give up.
But, in the same way we've faced so many other challenges, we united in a powerful way.
We organized in support of programs for addicts, put more law enforcement officers on the street, and changed state laws to make it harder to fall into addiction. The nearly 1,700 individuals who've completed a treatment program, and the more than 1,300 drug court graduates in the Fifth Congressional District are truly reasons to celebrate.
Just as inspiring, volunteers like Pastor Braxton King in McCreary County is committed to mentoring young people at the Lord's Gym, UNITE Coalition leaders like Marionette Little in Pike County continues to volunteer her time with UNITE Clubs and Camp UNITE even after retirement, and school leaders like John Hale, Principal at Somerset Christian School, and his wife, Nancy, at Rockcastle County High School, are helping our young people make wise decisions. These difference-makers have made UNITE successful by keeping close watch over our future generation. I am so pleased to stand with thousands of wonderful kids, who've joined UNITE clubs, attended Camp UNITE and continue to educate their peers about the very real dangers inside the medicine cabinet.
Unfortunately, this epidemic knows no boundaries and communities across our nation are now being overrun by pain pills. Instead of turning a blind eye to our neighbors' plight, our rural region is leading the national fight on prescription drugs. On April 2nd, UNITE kicked-off its second successful National Rx Drug Abuse Summit with nearly 1,000 attendees from 49 states and two foreign countries. With a robust schedule and top presenters, the Summit brought together state and federal leaders, treatment specialists, investigators, and doctors among others on this public health crisis that now kills more Americans than car crashes. As Centers for Disease Control Director, Dr. Tom Frieden declared, "we can stop this epidemic."
Even as our region still has a ways to go and UNITE's battle continues -- I agree that we can lick this. I know this because I saw the tough resolve of three spirited students from Rockcastle County High School, all who have lost loved ones to pain pill addiction. With staunch determination, they advocated from the heart for real changes to the use and availability of prescription drugs at the Rx Drug Summit.
With two Summits behind us, we've put the country on notice that we're going to lead the fight with any willing partner. The same spirit of determination and hope found in those three young students is the same spirit of our beloved region. So let me offer my praise to everyone at Operation UNITE, to Karen Kelly and the UNITE board, and to each UNITE Community Coalition and countless volunteers on a job well done.