Hal’s Pals enlist for action in drug war
Rogers announces $1.6 million drug education initiative
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers believes in the draft, but most of the troops he was talking to Monday morning didn’t seem to mind much as they stood decked out in their camouflage clothing.
“There is a serious war underway in our part of Kentucky, and unless we build up our army, we’re going to lose,” said Rogers. “I’ve sworn in hundreds of students today, but this is only the beginning. As UNITE staff travels throughout the region all students will be asked to join our effort. Students are the heart of our educational program. It is at this level that we can start to change pre-existing behaviors and attitudes and hopefully instill life long values that keep our kids off drugs and on track for a bright future.”
With nearly 500 students, elected officials, and other community members on hand, Rogers visited Whitley Central Intermediate School Monday morning to kick off a new $1.6 million drug education initiative through his Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education) program that will focus on prevention and intervention.
“We’re here to ask for your help for a very serious problem that each and every one of you can help with,” Rogers told the crowd. “If I asked you if you could save someone’s life, how many of you would say, ‘Yes, I will help.’ That is what we are here for. I am here to tell you about this UNITE campaign, and what you can do to help someone you know that might be using drugs.
“I’m sad to say the reason we created this UNITE campaign is because of the growing drug abuse problem in our region. It became so unbearable that something had to be done. I’ve heard officials in many counties in one way or another say something like this, ‘I am sick and tired of burying teenagers in my community.'”
Rogers told students they can help in the drug fight by talking to their friends about the dangers of illegal drugs, and he encouraged them to talk to their parents and teachers if they hear or run across suspicious things.
During the swearing in ceremonies Monday, Rogers led students in reciting a pledge to stay drug free, keep their dreams alive, and make the world a better place for kids to live. Students received activity books and information about staying off drugs, dog tags embossed with the message “Heroes Stand Up Against Drugs,” and certificates showing their commitment to joining the UNITE army. Following Rogers’ remarks, students also signed large copies of the pledge that will be displayed at each school.
Prevention measures Rogers announced Monday include offering incentives for implementing drug testing in school districts and employing liaisons that will serve as a resource for curriculum development, staff training, and establishing anti-drug classes.
“The first part of the prevention plan calls for offering incentives to implementing drug testing in school districts,” Rogers said. “Studies have shown that student drug testing can be an effective way to prevent drug abuse and drug use.
“The expectation that they might be randomly tested is enough to make some students stop using drugs, or never start using them in the first place. It is important to remember that the goal of school based drug testing is not to punish students who use drugs, but rather to deter use of drugs and guide those, who test positive, into counseling.
“Operation UNITE will pay up to $2,000 on drug testing for each school district that has implemented a student and or employee drug testing policy. We are not going to play around with this problem. We have a problem and have to take tough steps.”
The prevention plan also includes furnishing materials to schools to start UNITE clubs, Rogers added.
The intervention component of the education program focuses on placing 31 treatment counselors in school systems across UNITE’s service area. These counselors will help teachers identify at-risk kids and also serve as a hands-on resource for each school district.
During Monday’s ceremony, a group of kindergarten students from Whitley Central Primary, who were decked out in shirts saying “Hal’s Pals”, presented Rogers with a giant thank you card, and a recitation of the Hal’s Pals song, which was sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies.
Rogers was also serenaded Monday by a group of Whitley Central choir students, who were decked out in camouflage clothing, who sang God Bless America.
Whitley County Superintendent Lonnie Anderson announced that all 125 Whitley County bus drivers and bus assistants will take part in the UNITE neighborhood watch program as they travel nearly 5,000 miles daily taking students to and from school.
“On a daily basis, our buses will travel on practically every road in this community, and they are in practically every community in Whitley County,” Anderson said. “Our bus drivers and bus assistants will be trained by the UNITE law enforcement personnel to detect suspicious activities that might be occurring in our communities. We will also train them on how to make a proper report of those activities.”
UNITE was created in 2003 to fight the drug epidemic sweeping through southern and eastern Kentucky.
The program has three main tasks: criminal investigation, treatment and education. To date, more than $1.9 million in drugs have been taken off the streets including 8 pounds of methamphetamine, over 9,801 pills, and 1,501 grams of cocaine.
In addition, $87,000 has been seized from drug dealers and will be returned to local police for continued efforts to fight the drug trade in their communities. UNITE has also funded 17 new Drug Courts, which require addicts to receive drug counseling, weekly drug tests, get educated and become employed instead of serving time.
Since these new drug courts began, 99 participants have gone through the program and one drug free baby has been born.