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On the 'Front Line' of Prescription Drug Abuse, Kentucky Gets $1 Million From CDC To Fight Overdoses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending more than $1 million to Kentucky to combat a rising prescription drug overdose death epidemic, the federal agency announced Tuesday evening.WFPL reported last week that overdose deaths related to heroin are continuing to rise. The state's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet reports these deaths have spiked 27 percent in just three years.Tighter laws and stiffer penalties for prescription drug abuse have lead many drug abusers to heroin, but prescription drug overdoses continue to plague the state, said Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.The state's mortality rate of prescription drug overdoses in 2010 was the third highest in the nation, according to a 2013 report by Trust For America’s Health.The $1.08 million “Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Boost” grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was announced in Paintsville.CDC director Thomas Frieden joined Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents Kentucky's 5th district in Eastern Kentucky, for the announcement. The two were attending the third installment of Shaping Our Appalachian Region—or SOAR—initiative, which looks to improve the quality of life for residents in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky.“Prescription drug overdose is a national epidemic and Kentucky is on the front line,” Friden said.Just five states were awarded the three-year grant, according to a news release.The states are considered "poised to make immediate progress reducing prescription drug overdose" by leveraging Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, strengthening patient review protocol and prescription programs, and evaluating policy to get an understanding of what works, according to a release.But it is not just drug abuse wreaking havoc on the Appalachian region. The area's rate of heart disease is 84 percent higher than the national average, the rate of diabetes is 47 percent higher and residents are considered obese at a rate 26 percent higher than the national average, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health. And on top of that, the state's lung cancer mortality rates are the highest in the nation.“We cannot shape the future of this region without focusing on ways to improve the quality of life we have,” Rogers stated. “If you’ve ever battled cancer or watched someone close to you go down that difficult road, quality of life is basically non-existent.”

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.