January 28, 2011

In only its second year, organizers of the Different Faces of Substance Abuse workshop, which included the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture's School of Human Environmental Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service, saw a considerable increase in attendance over the preceding year's 175 participants. This year the event attracted 250 people, which is the maximum number the two-day workshop could accommodate.

Dave Hopkins, from the Office of Inspector General in the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Families, said the workshop's growth points to the severity of the problem, which he referred to as an epidemic and a disease.

"The growth in this conference from last year absolutely amazed me." he said. "We do need much more recognition of the scope of this problem.... We need to attack it like any other disease. It's a public health problem. We have a real challenge in front of us, but a conference like this is one of the best ways to engage all the right people to start to address the problem."

Jeanne Davis, UK Cooperative Extension regional coordinator for Western Kentucky and workshop chair, said Cooperative Extension has been working for several years in the substance abuse arena in terms of education.

"We have found in efforts over the years that when we collaborate with other people in law enforcement, social work, state and local governments, we do a much better job working as teams back in our communities to address this problem of substance abuse," she said.

One of the highlights of the workshop was keynote speaker Lt. Cmdr. Christopher M. Jones, senior public health advisor from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, D.C. Jones, a pharmacist, spoke about the Obama administration's efforts to reduce prescription drug abuse. Jones said the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy uses a four-pillar approach as a strategy to reduce prescription drug abuse through education, prescription drug monitoring, proper medication disposal or take-back programs and enforcement.

"Prescription drug abuse is our nation's fastest growing drug problem, with shocking consequences measured by overdose deaths, emergency room visits, treatment admissions, and increases in youth drug use," he said. "Because prescription drugs are legal and dispensed for legitimate purposes, our public policy response must strike a balance between our desire to minimize diversion and abuse of pharmaceuticals and the need to maximize their legitimate benefits."

Another workshop speaker was Van Ingram, executive director of Drug Control Policy in Kentucky. Ingram said not many people hear about the many small successes in fighting prescription drug abuse that happen every day in communities all across Kentucky.

"I think this conference shows there are hundreds of Kentuckians working in all 120 counties who care deeply about this problem and realize that solutions are found at the grassroots level - not in Washington, not in Frankfort," Ingram said. "Real change happens at the community level."

Other sponsors of the conference included UK College of Pharmacy, Kentucky Division of Behavioral Health, the Lexington Mayor's Alliance on Substance Abuse, UK's Health Education through Extension Leadership program and the Fayette County Board of the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.