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Appalachian Governors Call for Regional Approach to Substance Abuse Problem

February 2008


Washington, February 26, 2008—At the annual meeting of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in Washington on Sunday, February 24, 2008, the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and ARC Federal Co-Chair Anne B. Pope underscored the threat posed by substance abuse to Appalachia and called for a regional approach to addressing the problem.

Describing substance abuse as one of the top three health issues facing Appalachia and a "barrier to economic development," Pope cited an ARC-commissioned study that concluded that Appalachia leads the nation in the abuse of prescription painkillers and is facing increasing rates of methamphetamine abuse.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said that substance abuse, including prescription drug abuse, is a significant problem for all the Appalachian states and affects the quality of the workforce. He looked forward to working together with the Commission in addressing the problem.

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine described the trafficking in illegal substances across county or state lines as "a very vexing problem that really is a tragedy when you see the magnitude of it" and recommended sharing approaches to fight the problem, particularly with respect to methamphetamine abuse.

Governor Bob Riley of Alabama observed that methamphetamine abuse has become epidemic in Alabama. He said that while the manufacture of the drug has ceased in the state, it is now coming in from outside the state, and the methamphetamine problem in Alabama continues to be significant. He recommended a regional advertising campaign showing the harmful effects of the drug.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen referred to the abuse of legal prescription drugs as an enormous problem throughout the region, which he suggested could be addressed on a regional basis by pursuing doctors who abuse the prescription system.

As an immediate step in addressing the problems identified by the governors, Pope said, ARC has created a new partnership with the federal Office of Rural Health Policy and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The partnership will focus specifically on substance abuse issues within Appalachia. Pope also announced a new grants competition to encourage communities to develop innovative strategies in dealing with substance abuse. These new initiatives are in addition to funding already provided by ARC to the Coalition on Appalachian Substance Abuse Policy, a multi-state initiative involving public officials, local communities, and treatment professionals seeking to identify the scope and characteristics of the substance abuse problems and treatment alternatives in Appalachia.

The ARC-sponsored study, which will be released in the next several weeks, shows disparities between the Appalachian Region and the rest of the nation in mental health status and substance abuse prevalence. The study notes that Appalachia, in some respects, compares favorably with the rest of the nation in the treatment of drug abuse.