PRESTONBURG, Ky. - Kentucky has made inroads in combating drug abuse, and the momentum has gained steam since a new law took on the state's status as a "prescription playground," Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday night.
A bipartisan lineup of Kentucky political leaders hailed new initiatives headlined by the state law passed earlier this year that's aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse. It's a pervasive problem in a state where more people have died from prescription overdoses than from car crashes.
Beshear said the state will remain on the offensive as it enforces the new law that bolstered the state's prescription monitoring system and focused on pain management clinics.
The governor said the law might undergo some slight revisions in the 2013 General Assembly session. But he declared there will be no retreating from its tough provisions.
"Let me tell you this, tweak is a word that we will use," Beshear said in a speech at a substance abuse forum. "Because we're not going to stand for any wholesale changes and repeal of a law that is beginning to work. ... We're not going to go back to the day when we had a prescription playground here in the commonwealth of Kentucky. We're on the right path."
So far, 10 pain management clinics have closed and the amount of painkillers being prescribed has dropped sharply since the law took effect, Beshear said.
The law requires all new pain management clinics to be owned by licensed medical providers and have medical directors in charge.
It also requires all doctors, dentists, optometrists, registered nurses and podiatrists who write prescriptions to use the state's prescription monitoring system, known as KASPER. The Democratic governor said the number of KASPER users has skyrocketed in recent months.
But the crackdown has done nothing to impede the proper prescribing and use of those potent painkillers, Beshear said.
"No legitimate doctor who is practicing good medicine has anything to fear" from the new law, he said. "And no patient with legitimate pain needs should have a problem getting the pain medication that they need."
Beshear said the law is opposed by a few doctors who see it as too strict. He said the threat is those critics will recruit lawmakers "who may see the opportunity to score some political points" by trying to weaken it.
State Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, also said the new law might be tweaked next year to deal with some legitimate issues, but he joined in praising its effectiveness.
Stivers, who is running for re-election in next week's contest, said he supported the new law regardless of the political consequences for him.
"If I go home for that, so be it," Stivers said. "Because not on my watch as the majority leader of the state Senate are we going to regress from where we were to where we are."
Another bill passed this year is aimed at curbing production of methamphetamine by placing limits on the amount of some over-the-counter medications that cold and allergy sufferers can purchase. The goal is to limit access to large quantities of medicines like Claritin D and Allegra that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth, an illegal drug that's being widely abused in the state.
Despite the progress in curbing prescription pill abuse and meth use, Beshear and the other political leaders said the fight against drug abuse is ongoing.
"We're still in the heat of battle," said U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-Ky., who has long been at the forefront of anti-drug abuse efforts. "There are some encouraging things. ... But we're a long ways from success."
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the state has to remain vigilant as drug pushers shift tactics in response to successful new anti-drug initiatives.
"As we have seen before, the war continues and the battlefield changes," said Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat. "As quickly as one source dries up, another opens up."
Stumbo said it will take money to take "the next critical step" in curtailing drug abuse.
"The General Assembly needs to provide for a constant source of dedicated funding so we can deal with treatment facilities and engage in the long-term educational programs that will ultimately solve our problem," he said. "But it is not a simple solution, it is not a quick fix ... it's a long-term solution."
The political leaders spoke at a substance abuse forum presented by the Operation UNITE Foundation and the Recovery Kentucky program.
Operation Unite provides undercover narcotics investigations, addiction treatment and education programs. Recovery Kentucky helps people overcome chronic substance abuse.
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