Operation UNITE responds to criticism: What is the cost of doing nothing?

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.

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. 

Click here to read Op-ed: Critic of Operation UNITE




What is the cost of doing nothing?


By Karen Kelly

UNITE President/CEO


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 unite@centertech.com.


Do you have an opinion you want to share?  Let me know your thoughts.  You can comment on this blog or send me your “Letter to the Editor”. 

Here’s is the policy:

Email your letters to neil.middleton@wymtnews.com


Letters should be no more than 300 words.  However, exceptions will be made at the discretion of WYMT. 


We reserve the right to edit and/or reject letters for content, clarity and length.  Please do not make personal attacks, libelous or inappropriate statements. 

I look forward to hearing from you.

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  • by Seth Location: KY/MI on Dec 3, 2010 at 12:37 PM
    @Proud East Kentuckian: Thank you for recognizing the point I was getting at. You made some excellent additions to what I originally said. I really liked that you brought up how people are seeming vilified when they raise concern about current attempts at drug mitigation, especially in East KY. I urge anyone who reads this to understand that questioning the status quo should never be considered a bad, negative, or villainous. It's a very important mindset for citizens of a democracy to maintain so government remains checked and that Rousseau's idea of the social contract remains balanced - both notions our founding Framers intended. I also never even advanced the belief that UNITE is entirely wrong and should be abolished, necessarily. I only call for further data and facts so that concerned voters can make that decision for themselves.
  • by Proud East Kentuckian Location: Hazard on Dec 3, 2010 at 08:45 AM
    I think Mr. Combs raises some valid concerns. Jack Conway tried to make drug prevention the big issue in the last election, but common sense prevailed. Anybody that opposes these anti-drug programs is instantly vilified because everybody SHOULD be against drugs. They are destroying our communities, no question. Mr. Combs just suggests trying a new approach that may be a wiser use of funds. If Mr. Rogers can secure billions in funding for programs like UNITE, then maybe he should work on improving the quality of life for Eastern Kentuckians. The drug problem here has more to do with the mindset of the people than addiction. This area is grossly underdeveloped in comparison with the rest of the country. The definition of crazy is doing the same thing every time and expecting different results. Meth labs are on the rise, and as the economy remains stagnate, drug use will continue to rise, whether UNITE gets funding or not.
  • by Seth Location: KY/MI on Dec 2, 2010 at 10:24 PM
    (cont'd from 3rd comment) I apologize & sincerely mean that I do not intend it to be personal, but forgive me if I cannot take an entity at its word when referring to results claimed to have been the direct result of its activities. Without sources of data, surely you see the conflict of interest in doing so. This goes for any entity. Enron employees/stockholders are a fine analogy of why one shouldn't rely on an institution's word. I just to take this cynicism to a higher degree when its an entity that involves the government in any shape, fashion, or form. In conclusion, taking time out of what I'm certain is a busy schedule to respond to me is very gracious and for that you have my utmost respect. Having said that, I think that you severely misinterpreted my article's overall point. As a final point, I felt like your last line insinuates I am doing nothing to help. This is nothing less than being untrue. I just choose to contribute in a way that does not advance UNITE's agenda.
  • by Seth Location: KY/MI on Dec 2, 2010 at 10:10 PM
    (cont'd from 2nd comment) I am very skeptical of enforcement as being more positive than negative with regard to helping victims. This is not the appropriate forum for me to go into such an extensive thought. I think it best if we just agree to disagree on that aspect. However, I would like to critique the study you mentioned, but I'm unsure of the source for locating it. Without having read the study yet, I must still caution you that a rudimentary element of scientific analysis is correlation is not causation. Thus, confirmation bias is a concern right off the bat. Also, I did pay some homage UNITE's treatment aspect, if you recall. Your last paragraph does nothing to aid my original criticism. It merely repeats what is on your fact sheet. Again, you're failing to see that I am not arguing your numbers are flagrantly false. I said they "seem" arbitrary, meaning that absent accurate data from which those numbers derive, how can you arrive at any other conclusion? (cont'd)
  • by Seth Location: KY/MI on Dec 2, 2010 at 09:59 PM
    (cont'd from 1st comment) Your response seems to infer that I am under that presumption. Although I certainly am not, I am just voicing a concern on why it isn't available. Would it present a conflict to attach sources to your "Fact Sheet"? After all, any "fact" is never truly an acceptable notion without having been verified, no? In the realm of science, a fact is defined as a provable concept. My reference to your "Fact Sheet" was only meant to suggest transparency available to constituents of which the funding is derived. Third, I presented no contradiction in "trying to have it both ways." If X shows an improvement in Y, can it not be said that A, B, or C could show more/better improvement than X? For example, at one time penicillin was splendid for fighting harmful bacteria, but a better option came along with Amoxocillin and others. Next, I think, is where we simply have a matter of differing opinions. (cont'd)
  • by Seth Location: KY/MI on Dec 2, 2010 at 09:44 PM
    Your opening line is troubling. How can one's opinion be faulty? One's reasoning, perhaps, but not opinion. You begin with a straw-man argument that my suggestion that the only alternative to UNITE would have been nothing. My article in no way reflects that position. I merely hinted that certainly a wiser alternative exists. Further, you infer that I somehow am under the impression that UNITE is not audited or that UNITE is fraudulently representing expenditures - both are falsehoods. My true concern is that precise information is not readily available to the public. In the age of government transparency, I don't see why UNITE does not take a proactive approach to offering easy access to it. Secondly, you allude to your "Fact Summary" and state it is not meant to be extensive. I never contended otherwise. But, why shouldn't something more extensive be available, as you say I prefer? I do not harbor the presumption that you can't cite and defend your statistics. (cont'd.)


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