Nancy Hale is president and CEO of Operation UNITE, a nonprofit addressing opioid misuse through education, law enforcement and treatment. Hale spoke with Interact for Health about how the organization uses that three-pronged approach to stem the opioid misuse epidemic in Kentucky.
Interact for Health: Could you explain more about Operation UNITE and its goals?
Nancy Hale: Operation UNITE was created by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) in 2003 in response to a newspaper report that dubbed Eastern Kentucky the prescription drug capital of the world. UNITE is an acronym for Unlawful Narcotics Investigation Treatment and Education. That acronym reflects the three-pronged comprehensive approach that we use to combat substance misuse in eastern Kentucky: The "UNI" is the law enforcement arm, the "T" is the treatment arm and the "E" is the education or prevention arm.
We look at ourselves as a resource in providing information, working with partners, and achieving our purpose to prevent substance misuse and facilitate recovery in Kentucky's fifth congressional district, the state and the United States.
Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned from your work as CEO of Operation UNITE?
Hale: One of the lessons we have learned over the last 15 years is that it is vitality important to involve all parts of the county in substance misuse response efforts. You have to involve your business, your school system, your medical community and parents.
Interact for Health: What accomplishments of Operation UNITE are you most proud of?
Hale: We have seen a lot of positive results from our initiatives, and the opioid-related death rate has gone down in some of our counties. One thing we are most proud of is our voucher program. We provide one-time vouchers for residents of Kentucky's fifth congressional district who cannot afford a long-term residential treatment facility. Since 2005, we have supplied vouchers to over 4,300 people and over 3,000 people have completed a long-term residential program.
Interact for Health: Could you share a brief story that illustrates the effect of your work in the community?
Hale: One gentleman who has worked with UNITE as a volunteer is the best example of our three-pronged approach. He was arrested shortly after UNITE began. We did not just leave him in jail. He received one of our vouchers and he moved from the jail cell into a long-term residential treatment program. He has been sober for about 10 years now and became one of our spokespersons. We invited him to speak with us in Washington, D.C., on drug panels and to speak before the Kentucky General Assembly.
Interact for Health: What about your work excites you and is most fulfilling?
Hale: What excites me the most is that we at UNITE are able to play a small role in combatting the opioid misuse epidemic and bringing hope to others. We're able to provide help, we're able to see the healing that can take place and we're able to work with those people who are in long-term recovery. The treatment line receives a lot of calls from people desperate for help, but we also get a lot of calls thanking us.
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