LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway brought his drug abuse roundtable tour to his hometown Wednesday at the Healing Place in west Louisville.
Conway has been hammering Republican opponent Rand Paul for his previous comment that drug abuse is "not a real pressing issue" in the campaign. But, Conway says it's a big issue for him as both Kentucky's Attorney General and as a candidate. In the last month, Conway has focused on the issue as a way to contrast his view of government versus Paul's.
Seven recovering addicts joined representatives from the Healing Place, law enforcement and Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel to discuss possible solutions and the toll of drug abuse.
"I lost everything," said Amanda, who added that doctors liberally doled out prescriptions to feed her addiction, "I lost my children. I lost custody of them. I lost my home. I lost my marriage. I lost myself."
"I never thought I would become an addict," said Kenny, "but I did."
While Conway's previous roundtables have been more political, Wednesday's was especially personal. And that's what Conway is trying to stress in the campaign -- that when Rand Paul calls for a drug policy with more local and less federal control, that would come at a cost in Kentucky.
"Without federal funding for drug enforcement efforts, these task forces would be nowhere. They'd go away," Conway said, referring to efforts in other counties which receive substantial federal funding. In the case of the drug task force in the Pennryrile area, Conway says 75 percent of the funding comes from the federal government.
With Kentucky a net importer of federal dollars, especially in poorer counties, Paul's call for cuts in federal spending are seen as a harder sell. While Paul has received the endorsements of ten Kentucky sheriffs, including two his campaign announced prematurely, Conway is endorsed by the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police.
While Paul believes that drug policy would be more efficient and appropriate if controlled and directed on a local and state level, Conway on Wednesday called for an expanded federal role in drug policy, with a new national standard for Internet pharmacies and a mandate for all U.S. states to follow Kentucky's example in tracking prescription pills.
"By a date certain, and from this funding source, every state in the union is going to have a system similar to KASPAR, because we can't be fighting this battle against prescription pills in Kentucky and have it open and lawless in places like Florida and Georgia or other states," Conway said.
The Healing Place, which is Kentucky's largest shelter and addiction recovery center, hosted the roundtable. Ironically, only 5% of the organization's total budget in the past fiscal year was from federal funds, about $150,000 in FEMA and stimulus funding.
Both Conway and Rand Paul have expressed disdain for the practice of incarcerating drug abusers rather than a Healing Place approach to get them help.
"With as many open arms and unconditional love," said Michael, a recovering addict, "Hope, free place to stay, free food."
The Paul campaign reiterated Wednesday that the Republican Senate candidate is not set out to eliminate federal-local partnerships, but to simply review them to make sure the tax dollars are being spent efficiently.
Conway scoffed at what he says is a pattern of Paul backing off politcally dangerous proclamations.
"I think (Paul clarifying his past comment is) politically expedient for him, and particularly in the eastern part of the state when people started hearing that he didn't think drugs were a pressing issue and he wanted to end federal funding. That's consistent with everything he's ever said. if you look at his statements throughout his career.
Meanwhile, Conway got a different answer than he might have expected from Major Tony King, the head of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office's Kentuckiana Criminal Interdiction Unit which conducts traffic stops and drug busts. With law enforcement in other counties detailing federal funding, Conway asked King how much federal money the Jefferson County program receives. And the answer locally, is none.