Van Ingram is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. Ingram joined the agency in November 2004, shortly after it was created with the mission to coordinate Kentucky's substance use efforts in enforcement, treatment, prevention and education. He is a certified law enforcement instructor and has trained officers across the state on topics including community-oriented policing and case management. He is a frequent speaker on a variety of substance use issues both in Kentucky and nationally.
Interact for Health: You've been with the Office of Drug Control Policy almost since its inception. How have drug control efforts evolved over that time?
Ingram: In 2004 at the beginning, the office was heavily focused on passing legislative solutions to the drug epidemic faced by the commonwealth. Today, due to an increase in state and federal funding, ODCP is able to focus our efforts on soliciting and supporting treatment, recovery and prevention programs that are evidence-based.
Interact for Health: How important are partnerships to Kentucky's drug control policy efforts?
Ingram: The Office of Drug Control Policy works diligently with several agencies throughout the commonwealth, including the Governor's Office, Kentucky Opioid Response Effort, Kentucky Pharmacists Association, Department of Corrections, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Kentucky Chamber, Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, and various nonprofits. Our partners are crucial assets that allow us to make a difference.
Interact for Health: What is the next critical step that needs to be taken to advance Kentucky's drug control efforts?
Ingram: The commonwealth is continuing to take many aggressive steps to end this crisis by using a multi-disciplinary approach with a team comprised of health care experts, law enforcement, advocates and public policy experts. Kentucky cannot continue to lose our citizens to overdoses, which not only causes thousands of families heartbreak but brings devastation to our communities. There is no simple answer to how we combat this public health crisis, but we must treat addiction as a medical issue, not just a criminal issue.
The administration is working to reduce addiction and prevent re-incarceration through a statewide project that provides transportation at no charge to former inmates so they can access substance-abuse recovery facilities, medical appointments, job interviews, educational courses, probation and parole meetings, and employment. The program is made possible through a $1.7 million grant award by the Office of Drug Control Policy to the Department of Corrections to partner with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The Department of Corrections estimates that approximately 50,000 citizens across the commonwealth currently under the supervision of probation or parole will utilize this project.
Interact for Health: How have your initiatives influenced drug control efforts in the region and on the national stage?
Ingram: In 2012 Kentucky became the first state to require prescribers to query our Prescription Drug Monitoring program before prescribing a controlled substance. This ensured that patients were not visiting multiple prescribers to obtain the same class of drugs. Now most all states have some type of similar requirement.
Interact for Health: How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
Ingram: The pandemic brought a fear of going into heavily trafficked public spaces resulting in a decline in treatment admissions. The Office of Drug Control Policy believes this fear, combined with the influx of illicit fentanyl in the drug supply, played a role in 2020's increased numbers. The office encourages those in recovery to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as another tool toward a successful recovery journey.
Our office has strived to communicate virtually as much as possible with treatment providers and program administrators to address any problems within the community. We hope to resume in-person visits soon.
Interact for Health: You conduct a training course for chiefs, sheriffs and command staff in Kentucky Substance Abuse Issues. What is the key takeaway you hope participants come away with?
Ingram: Awareness is the key to survival during most medical emergencies; and that's certainly true in the case of a drug overdose. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that is difficult, but not impossible to overcome. It's important to realize that we all possess the power to help save lives.
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