LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — LONDON – At age 14, Chad Webb began drinking alcohol.
It wasn’t long before his youthful experimentation had progressed to more potent drugs and an addiction to prescription pain killers.
“All I was worrying about is how I would get my next high,” the 38-year-old Pike County resident told state lawmakers during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary in London on September 6.
But that life came to an end in 2005, when Webb was arrested by Operation UNITE detectives on drug trafficking charges. His arrest coincided with the launch of new initiatives by the anti-drug organization, and set in motion a sequence of events that turned his life around.
In June 2005, UNITE began a toll-free Treatment Referral Line (1-866-908-6483) to help individuals such as Webb connect with the limited number of treatment facilities serving southern and eastern Kentucky. The following month, Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal’ Rogers announced the creation of UNITE’s Treatment Voucher Program to assist low-income residents obtain residential treatment.
Webb was one of the Voucher Program’s first recipients, and graduated from treatment on July 6, 2006.
“For 2,741 days I’ve been a good dad and husband,” Webb said. “The war on drugs is far from over, but at least for me the battle has been won.”
“Addiction is a treatable illness, but there’s not a silver bullet,” Rogers told the committee. “UNITE provides a lifeline of hope” through its voucher program and treatment help line.
The three-person UNITE treatment team currently fields more than 1,200 calls for assistance each month from addicts or family members seeking guidance with an addiction issue.
“These are life and death calls,” noted Dan Smoot, UNITE president/CEO. “They feel they have no other option.”
“We in far eastern Kentucky have just been devastated (by drugs),” said committee member Sen. Ray S. Jones II, who represents Pike, Martin and Johnson counties. “UNITE has saved life after life after life.”
Ronald L. Hatfield, manager of Health Information Solutions, said his son was one of those lives saved.
During a separate presentation to committee members about prescription drug monitoring programs across the nation, Hatfield said he was the father of a prescription drug addict who had received help at the Chad’s Hope Teen Challenge Center in Clay County. “He would not be alive today without all the work UNITE has done.”
Treatment for an addiction is a process, noted Rep. Kelly Flood, who represents part of Fayette County. “Relapse is part of the recovery process.”
“Is everybody going to get well? Certainly not,” acknowledged UNITE’s Smoot, but “treatment gives them the tools” they need for recovery.
“Many of these people (such as Webb) come back with a passion for life” after completing a treatment program, Rogers noted. “The key has been educating people that there is hope. We must continue to focus on treatment and education programs.”
Unfortunately, Rogers said $374 billion a year is spent by federal and state governments on substance abuse, but only 1.9 percent of that goes toward drug and alcohol prevention and treatment.
Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, called the UNITE Voucher Program and Treatment Referral Line “a model we need to consider” for implementation statewide.
“UNITE is the only place where they will (take the time and effort to) try to meet the person’s needs,” Ingram said.
Rep. Robert Benvenuti III, who represents part of Fayette County, agreed. “What they have done brings tribute to the Commonwealth,” he said.
Congressman Rogers saluted legislators for focusing on substance abuse issues over the past few years, noting their efforts have paid off.
“For the first time in a decade the drug overdose deaths declined last year,” Rogers said. “You are saving lives.”
For more information about Operation UNITE, visit their website at www.operationunite.org.