(AP) – Kentucky’s addiction recovery efforts deserve to rank as a priority when looking for ways to spend massive amounts of pandemic aid coming to the state, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said Thursday.
McConnell discussed the state’s opportunity to steer federal pandemic money into recovery programs as the Senate Republican leader visited an addiction treatment center in Washington County.
“This is a one-time opportunity in which there’s going to be an enormous amount of money coming into our state,” he said. “As you think of the various things that need to be attacked, our addiction and recovery problems are pretty near the top of the list.”
McConnell shepherded pandemic relief aid through the Senate when the GOP controlled the chamber. The Kentucky lawmaker opposed the most recent aid package that cleared Congress with Democratic support, warning that it would trigger a burst of inflation.
Decisions on how to allocate Kentucky’s share of pandemic aid will be made by the state’s leaders.
Earlier this year, the GOP-led legislature allocated more than $1 billion in federal money on several big-ticket items, including school construction, water and sewer projects and broadband expansion. The decisions reflected shared priorities between Democratic Gov. Beshear and GOP lawmakers.
They will have more decisions to make on large amounts of federal money still unspent. McConnell indicated Thursday that he’ll do what he can to help recovery organizations as they seek funding.
During his long Senate career, McConnell has delivered almost $300 million of federal funding to support Kentucky’s prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts, his office said recently.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a fellow Republican, joined McConnell in visiting the Crown Recovery Center on Thursday.
Cameron said Kentucky stands to eventually reap more than $460 million to combat its opioid-addiction woes as its share from a possible $26 billion settlement with several pharmaceutical companies.
“We continue pursuing every possible avenue to push back against the drug epidemic in Kentucky and a large part of our efforts are focused on securing resources to aid Kentuckians who suffer from addiction and to support the treatment programs that compassionately serve them,” Cameron said.
Opioid abuse remains a deadly scourge in the Bluegrass State. Fatal drug overdoses in Kentucky surged nearly 50% last year and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was a “major contributing factor,” a recent state report concluded.
More than 1,964 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses in 2020, according to the report from the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and the Office of Drug Control Policy. The official count easily eclipsed the state’s prior record level of fatal drug overdoses.
Kentucky’s rising death toll was driven by opioid abuse. A key factor was the prevalence of fentanyl — involved in about 71% of the state’s overdose deaths for the year, the report said. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid increasingly added to other illicit drugs to boost potency.