By BRUCE SCHREINER from the Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday highlighted law enforcement successes in blocking the spread of illegal drugs in Kentucky, offering an election-year response to Republican criticism of his record in fighting back against the deadly drug scourge.
Beshear pointed to the seizure of 142 pounds (64 kilograms) of fentanyl in the past seven months and discussed the work by the state’s Counterdrug Program in supporting seizures of fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.
The governor also pointed to advances in addiction recovery services as he focused on a comprehensive response to drug woes in a state where drug overdose deaths have surpassed 2,000 per year.
“At this point, we all know somebody that’s not only been touched by addiction, we all know somebody that we have lost to addiction,” Beshear said during his weekly news conference.
Republicans say the state’s illegal drug epidemic worsened during Beshear’s tenure. State Republican Party spokesman Sean Southard said in a recent statement that drug addiction continues to have a “devastating impact” on communities, and that Beshear has “failed to address this crisis adequately.”
The state’s drug woes emerged as a leading issue in the GOP gubernatorial primary, where a dozen candidates are competing for their party’s nomination. Beshear faces nominal opposition in his party’s primary. The primary election is next Tuesday, but three days of in-person, no-excuse early voting started Thursday.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft has made fighting drugs, especially fentanyl, a centerpiece of her campaign. Attorney General Daniel Cameron, another leading GOP gubernatorial contender, points to the nearly $900 million his office secured for Kentucky to fight the opioid epidemic, as part of settlements with companies for their roles in the opioid addiction crisis.
There’s a running debate — which could continue into the general election campaign — about who deserves credit for holding drug companies accountable for the drug crisis.
Cameron has given credit to the office he leads, saying at a campaign stop Wednesday in Shelbyville that “it’s one thing to talk about these issues, it’s another thing to lead on them.”
On Thursday, Beshear said he has fought back against the state’s addiction problems since his term as attorney general, which preceded Cameron’s term. While in that position, Beshear filed multiple lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
Beshear recently pointed to statistics showing that drug overdose deaths in Kentucky fell by 5% in 2022, which he attributed to drug treatment efforts. This is the first decline in drug overdose deaths in four years.
Kentucky has increased the number of treatment beds by 50% during Beshear’s term, according to the governor. His administration is seeking support and oversight of mobile crisis intervention service providers in another initiative to help people overcome addiction. The state’s GOP-dominated legislature also has focused on efforts to combat the drug crisis.
Meanwhile, Beshear noted that hundreds of Kentucky National Guard soldiers have been deployed to the nation’s southwest border during his term as governor. The governor has declared in the past that a “strong national security requires strong border security.”
Craft has been outspoken in blaming border security problems for the flow of illegal drugs to Kentucky.
Beshear on Thursday signed the state’s 2024 Drug Interdiction and Counterdrug Activities Plan. He said the action will pave the way for federal funding to back the counterdrug program in Kentucky.
The governor also offered a slew of statistics to showcase drug interdiction successes.
From Oct. 1, 2022 to May 1 of this year, the counterdrug program team supported law enforcement in the seizure of 88,253 fentanyl pills, Beshear said. During the prior fiscal year, only 5,100 fentanyl pills were seized, he said.
Fentanyl has been partially blamed for the state’s high death toll from drug overdoses.
Kentucky State Police Commissioner Phillip Burnett Jr., who joined the governor at the news conference, said law enforcement agencies will continue working together to “develop innovative ways” to combat the spread of illegal drugs causing the deaths of Kentuckians.
“Here in Kentucky, we continue to send a strong message to drug traffickers that our focus will be upon you if you distribute such poisons in our state,” he said.
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