Kentucky has made inroads in its fight against illegal drug abuse, and the momentum against drug pushers has gained steam thanks to a new law aimed at reversing a trend in which the state became a "prescription drug playground," Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday night.
A bipartisan lineup of Kentucky political leaders hailed new initiatives headlined by the state law passed earlier this year that's aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse. It's a pervasive problem in a state where more people have died from prescription overdoses than from vehicle crashes.
Beshear said the state will remain on the offensive as it enforces the new law that bolstered the state's prescription monitoring system and focused on pain management clinics. The governor said the law might undergo some slight revisions in the 2013 General Assembly session. Beshear declared there will be no retreating from its tough provisions.
"I'm serving notice right now that tweaking it is all we're going to do," Beshear told reporters. "We're not going to back up, we're not going go back to a period of time where we had a prescription drug playground in the commonwealth of Kentucky. We're going to move ahead and be aggressive in enforcing this legislation."
So far, 10 pain management clinics have closed and the amount of painkillers being prescribed has dropped sharply since the law took effect, Beshear said.
The law requires all new pain management clinics to be owned by licensed medical providers and have medical directors in charge.
It also requires all doctors, dentists, optometrists, registered nurses and podiatrists who write prescriptions to use the state's prescription monitoring system, known as KASPER. The Democratic governor said the number of KASPER users has skyrocketed in recent months.
But the crackdown has done nothing to impede the proper prescribing and use of those potent painkillers, Beshear said.
"Any legitimate doctor has nothing to fear with" the new law, he said. "And no patient who is in legitimate need of pain medication has anything to fear."
Despite the progress, Beshear and the other political leaders said the fight against drug abuse is ongoing on several fronts.
"We're still in the heat of battle," said U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-Ky., who has long been at the forefront of anti-drug abuse efforts. "There are some encouraging things. ... But we're a long ways from success."
In August 2011, doctors prescribed 20.9 million doses of hydrocodone in the Bluegrass state _ enough for 51 doses for every Kentuckian, Rogers said. This past August, hydrocodone prescriptions totaled 19.3 million doses, down 7.5 percent. Prescriptions also fell for oxycodone, Xanax and Opana, he said.
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the state has to remain vigilant as drug pushers shift tactics in response to successful new anti-drug initiatives.
"As we have seen before, the war continues and the battlefield changes," said Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat. "As quickly as one source dries up, another opens up."
The political leaders spoke at a substance abuse forum presented by the Operation UNITE Foundation and the Recovery Kentucky program.
Operation Unite provides undercover narcotics investigations and addiction treatment. Recovery Kentucky helps people overcome chronic substance abuse.