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On Tour With Federal Drug Czar, McConnell Touts Opioid Spending

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds a press conference to talk about the judicial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh at the Federal Courthouse in Louisville on Friday, July 13.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is touting the $31 million he says he’s brought into Kentucky to fight the opioid epidemic. McConnell spoke at a press conference Monday after giving the White House drug policy head a tour of an addiction recovery center in Louisville.

“What I’ve tried to do to be helpful was deal with both the law enforcement side and the treatment and recovery side through a variety of different bills we’ve passed,” McConnell said. “We have over the course of the last administration and the Trump administration, put $31 million into Kentucky for these treatment and recovery efforts.”

McConnell and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Jim Carroll toured the Volunteers of America Mid-States facility where pregnant people and new moms who are fighting addiction get treatment.

McConnell said VOA Mid-States is a good example of a program that’s successful in connecting people with treatment. He talked about the 34 Kentucky counties that are high-intensity drug trafficking areas and the increased funding that goes to these areas, including Jefferson County.

“It’s a combination of beefing up the law enforcement,” McConnell said. “I worked to establish these high intensity drug trafficking areas. Louisville Is one of them.”

Carroll — who President Donald Trump appointed in Feb. 2018 — said the federal government has spent about the same amount of money for treatment and recovery programs as what it’s spent on law enforcement efforts.

“[McConnell] has been instrumental in passing key legislation not only for the mothers who need protection and need help, but in terms of helping people who have the disease of addiction, finding a job, getting them back into society and making sure they have employment,” Carroll said. “He’s been key to getting legislation to help stopping these drugs from ever coming into this country.”

Carroll said that one of the key parts of the Trump Administration’s plan to thwart drug use is the potential wall that would separate parts of the U.S. from Mexico. President Trump on Friday vetoed a Congressional effort to reverse his emergency declaration that allocated money to build a wall.

“What we know from border and customs protection is that hundreds of thousands of pounds [of drugs] are coming in between ports of entry,” Carroll said. “So that wall will undoubtedly stop the flow of drugs in those locations, force people to the ports of entry where there’s more law enforcement located to make sure that the people coming into our country are properly searched just to make sure that they’re not carrying with them any illicit substances.”

Last week President Trump released his proposed 2020 budget, which would actually dramatically reduce the role Carroll’s office plays. The proposal would slash about95 percent of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s budget. National advocates oppose the move because they say the White House office is instrumental in coordination of a national response to drug use.

McConnell will be up for re-election for his Senate seat in 2020.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.