By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Carter County is set to get more than $1.2 million in opioid settlement money over the next couple of years, with $270,000 to be paid out for 2022 and the rest coming in various payments. By law the money must be used for opioid abatement programs. Those programs can take the form of interdiction, treatment, or prevention.
It’s that final one, Max Hammond told the fiscal court on Monday night, that he hopes they’ll consider helping fund. Doing so, he said, could help Carter County from having another lost generation like the one that has already succumbed to addiction.
Hammond, who came before the court to tell them about the Pathfinder Initiative and its mission to prevent drug use among youth, noted that Carter County is among the poorest of the eastern Kentucky counties that are considered among the poorest in the nation.
It also, coincidentally or not, has one of the highest overdose death rates in the state and nation.
According to 2019 data from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC), Hammond told the court, Carter County was above the state and national average for opioid and other drug overdose deaths.
At the time Hammond’s Warrior’s Path Project and the Galaxy Project were coming together to develop the Pathfinder Initiative, the nation’s drug overdose mortality rate was 28.7 people per 100,000 persons. The Appalachian regions drug overdose mortality rate was significantly higher, as 43.6 per 100,000 with Kentucky driving that at 48.5 per 100,000. Carter County’s rate, at that time, was a whopping 66.1 deaths per 100,000 people between the ages of 15 and 64.
But rather than coming down, it’s continued to grow. According to data released reflecting the year 2021 – the latest available – that number for Carter County has grown to 90.4 deaths per 100,000 people, more than double the rate for Appalachia as a region.
The county, and the region, has lost almost an entire generation to economic stagnation, out migration and drug addiction, Hammond said. But that trend doesn’t need to continue, and he believes prevention programs like Pathfinder can help curb it.
“This ain’t for nothing less than saving the lives of our children,” Hammond said. “They’ll replace that lost generation, but they need your leadership now.”
The Pathfinder Initiative would work by bringing the courts, law enforcement, the schools, and others who might encounter and identify at risk youth together to identity the children, their risks, and their interests and needs, and make a plan to meet them head on. It also helps build relationships within the family and between different families, and gives children something to “say yes” to instead of simply admonishing them to “say no” to drugs and alcohol.
The evidence based model, Hammond said, has the support of state and local officials, but he would appreciate the county’s support in helping fund the outdoor programs and other activities that could help keep local youth out of trouble.
In addition to mentorships and projects like an oral history program with partners at EKU, the Pathfinder Initiative would “give them support to learn the things they want to learn,” Hammond said, whether that was “how to play a fiddle, how to fish… or how to gut a deer.”
While Hammond was clear he wanted the courts support, they weren’t prepared to give an answer or discuss how they might support the initiative just yet.
Judge executive Brandon Burton, who is on the Pathfinder Initiative board, said while they weren’t ready to vote on any level of support yet, he was glad Hammond took the opportunity to present the information.
“I wanted these men (the magistrates) to see what kind of difference we can make,” Burton said.
In other action the court approved a request from FIVCO to serve as the pass through for grant funding offered to the Genesis Recovery Center, and voted to begin the process of looking at East River Road to determine if they could take it into the county road system.
They also moved to approve the extension of their contract with ER Assist for disaster grant consultation through May. ER Assist representative Laurel Matula explained to the court that they have on final payment to pay for the ice storm debris clean-up, and once they can demonstrate those payments have been made the county will be eligible for their final reimbursement check from FEMA.
“Once you pay that final payment of debris cleanup, then you can get a $1,000,000 reimbursement from FEMA,” Matula said. But, she said, they need the cancelled checks and receipts for all payments before they can receive that reimbursement.
Even after that, she said, with their other projects, including the hazard mitigation projects like bridge replacements, “we will have a cycle of payment and reimbursement for probably the next 18 months.”
The court also approved the appointment of Jonda Berry to the board for the Extension Agency, and approved advertising for and accepting applications for a new solid waste coordinator. This need arose with the planned retirement of current solid waste coordinator Mike Brammell.
The court also approved the purchase of 33 new e-poll books, which can call up a voters party, voting district, and other info to identify the appropriate ballot with a quick scan of their driver’s license or ID card. While the total cost for the 33 e-poll books – the total number approved by the state – is around $56,000 total, county clerk Mike Johnston told the court, the state did approve that number of books for reimbursement.
The court also moved to set a work session for next Tuesday, February 21, at 5 p.m. Topics to be addressed during that work session include discussion prior to the first reading of an insurance premium tax, and how to allocate the opioid settlement funds.
The court also moved to approve treasurer’s reports, approve claims and transfers, and to accept department reports from the jail, 911, EMS, and road department.
During the jail report the court also moved to approve the purchase of a 2013 Dodge Caravan mini-van, for use during prisoner transports, at a cost of $10,500. Funds for the purchase will come from jail accounts, and will not add to costs for the county, jailer R.W. Boggs said.
Jason Carroll reported on work done by road crews including ditching, gravel, cold patch asphalt work, and cutting brush along right of ways.
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