I received this Op-ed letter from Operation UNITE’s President Karen Kelly. It is in response to an Op-ed piece posted yesterday by Seth Combs criticizing the federal drug initiative.
What is the cost of doing nothing?
By Karen Kelly
I normally do not dignify negative comments about UNITE with a response, but the recent post by E. Seth Combs was so egregious and misleading I am compelled to make an exception. It is clear his comments are based upon faulty opinion – not facts.
UNITE is accountable to and extensively monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice and follows Office of Management and Budget guidelines. We are audited annually; every penny spent on law enforcement, treatment and education initiatives is supported by documentation. Yes there has been a substantial investment made to deal with substance abuse issues, but what would have been the cost of doing nothing? Can we put a price on the lives lost to abuse or the future of our children? I think not. In the first two months of this year alone there were 114 overdose deaths in 21 of our counties. Are we perfect? Certainly not. That’s why we welcome suggestions and encourage involvement. Talking about a problem is easy, but without action nothing can be accomplished.
The extensive list of accomplishments in our short, seven-year history, is outlined on our “Fact Sheet” (available on our website – www.operationunite.org). This is intended as a summary, not a detailed justification for every expense as Mr. Combs would prefer. We do not “throw out numbers and statistics” without being able to back them up. I find it ironic that Mr. Combs – who says he’s a former resident of Knott County now living in Michigan – says our numbers “seem indicative of progress” and yet laments the money could have been better spent. You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Combs.
Those of us who live and work in southern and eastern Kentucky are well aware of the problems. Local UNITE Coalition volunteers are working in their communities to assist those affected by addiction (that’s all of us, but the way) and to help educate our next generations on the dangers resulting from substance abuse. While law enforcement grabs a majority of the headlines, it is only a fraction of our focus.
Deterrence is an important component of UNITE’s three-pronged approach and is not contradictory to helping the victims. Our law enforcement task force meets or exceeds standards set by the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police. There are many small agencies in our region that don’t have the resources to conduct time-consuming investigations. Our detectives provide support to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The statistics we report are only for UNITE; the overall seriousness of drug-related crime cannot be underestimated. Left unchecked, it would be even worse. An independent drug trend study conducted by the state Office of Inspector General showed a significant decrease in prescribed narcotics in our region after UNITE began. I agree that we cannot arrest our way out of the problems and must address the underlying causes of abuse. That’s why our treatment and education initiatives are important.
Substance abuse treatment reduces both addiction and drug-related crime – at a fraction of the cost of incarceration. UNITE has provided more than $5.8 million to help nearly 2,000 low-income residents receive treatment. These vouchers are awarded using very specific guidelines; there is nothing “arbitrary” about these numbers. We assisted in the creation of two residential treatment facilities and support the Recovery Kentucky initiative that has built other treatment facilities in or adjacent to our region. Before Operation UNITE was launched there were only five (5) Drug Court programs in the Fifth District and nearly non-existent across the state. In partnership with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and support from then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, UNITE provided more than $4.2 million to add 30 new Drug Court programs. Our successes were dramatic. Drug Courts now operate in 115 counties under the AOC. “Today there is irrefutable evidence that Drug Court is achieving what it set out to do — substantially reduce drug use and criminal behavior in drug-addicted offenders.” (Court of Justice website)
Finally, Mr. Combs questions the validity of stats for our many education and youth activities. Once again, the numbers only reflect UNITE-sponsored programs (coalition programs reach thousands more) and are well documented.
We have seen positive changes because of our three-pronged proactive approach. I believe Mr. Combs provided a grossly unfair assessment of what UNITE has done, and continues to do, within Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District. Again, our efforts require commitment from all segments of the community. There are many ways for YOU to get involved. For more information call 1-866-678-6483 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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