Hilda Legg (right), Kentucky State Director, USDA Rural Development, speaks with Director of National Drug Control Policy Jim Carroll and Volunteers of America Mid-States’ President and CEO Jennifer Hancock outside a newly opened Recovery Community Center in Manchester, Kentucky, Nov. 25, 2019. (USDA Rural Development photo by Greg Thomas)

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I recently had the honor of attending the grand opening of the newest Volunteers of America Recovery Community Center in Manchester, Kentucky. This is only the fourth of its kind in Kentucky and offers a safe, welcoming place for those battling addiction. Kentucky has been hit hard by illicit drug abuse, especially opioids, with 54 of our 120 counties listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most vulnerable counties list.

Shortly after the Recovery Community Center’s grand opening, I joined the President’s Director of National Drug Control Policy, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, and the Kentucky Senate President at an anti-drug roundtable discussion in London.

While you may be wondering why the state director for USDA Rural Development would be talking anti-drug efforts, President Trump’s administration has employed an all-of-government approach to fighting the epidemic of opioid addiction, and Rural Development Kentucky has played an integral role in that fight. Rural communities cannot thrive when addiction eats away at their foundations (families, workers and community leaders).

Thanks to the herculean efforts of non-profits and government initiatives at the local, state, and federal levels, we learned just a few months ago there was about a 15% reduction in the number of overdose deaths in Kentucky.

Recently, I was invited into the home of a young couple with five children. The couple was finishing up their Rural Development-funded self-help home build while she worked from home and he worked at an addiction recovery center, all while both fought the daily battle to overcome addiction. During the center’s grand opening, Volunteers of America Mid-States’ President and CEO Jennifer Hancock melted my heart when she talked about the 200 plus babies born healthy to women in their Freedom House treatment program.

These touching stories give me hope.

While it’s easy to see a slight reduction in overdose deaths and think we are winning the battle, deciding to focus attention (and funding) elsewhere would be a mistake. During the roundtable in London, the Director of National Drug Control Policy Jim Carroll said that he wasn’t sure if the country had seen rock bottom yet with methamphetamines, a topic often overshadowed by the opioid epidemic. Whether it’s opioids or methamphetamines, the bottom line is the same: We can’t afford to ease up in our efforts to rid our rural communities of the scourge of opioids and other illicit drugs.

We have made great strides in reducing the number of overdose deaths, and I’m proud of the various anti-opioid projects Rural Development Kentucky has been a partner in — from our landmark transitional housing agreement in 2018 to our recent Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants to the numerous smaller projects across the commonwealth like the mobile opioid unit in Magoffin County.

But that is not enough.

My team will continue looking for ways we can partner with our rural communities because together, America prospers.

Hilda Legg is Kentucky State Director of USDA Rural Development. Find your state’s USDA Rural Development Office here.