Narcotics: Kentucky’s biggest threat

Interview with US Attorney Russell Coleman- Part I

By Jennifer Moonsong

Central Division, General Manager

Jobe Publishing, Inc.

United States Attorney Russell Coleman grew up a country boy in Logan County. Today he calls Louisville home, but he is eager to express his concern and dedication to the less populated, distant counties in his jurisdiction.

“The further you go from Jefferson County the less you expect from your federal government, but the expectations should not diminish with distance. I was appointed to protect all 53 counties, not just one.”

Coleman was nominated by President Trump in 2017 and sworn in following a unanimous confirmation by the US Senate.

Prior to being a United States Attorney, Coleman was an FBI agent, which Coleman said was a lifelong dream.

With his extensive work with the FBI, including a stint serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and training as a hostage negotiator, and years as an attorney, Coleman has a unique perspective and is glad to turn his attentions fully to his home state of Kentucky. More than a prosecutor, he is deeply concerned with prevention and is moved by his humanity.

The biggest problem, Coleman says, is illegal narcotics.

“We now live in an era where a single pill, one dose of Fentanyl, and they could be gone. We all hope our kids would never do that, but we live in the real world. This is the reality in our district,” Coleman said.

Although illegal narcotics are the main thread, prescription narcotics are still a problem.

Kentucky is among the top 10 states with the highest prescribing rates. In 2017, Kentucky providers wrote 86.8 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons, compared to the average U.S. rate of 58.7 prescriptions, according to the CDC.

Fentanyl is a schedule II narcotic used mostly in end-of-life care and has been a leading factor in overdose deaths since 2015.

The heroin epidemic, the true plague of Kentucky, is only surmounting with the addition of fentanyl, as much of the heroin supply is laced with fentanyl. This combination, which masks the fentanyl’s presence, makes dosage impossible to know and has overdose on the rise.

The Heroine/Fentanyl epidemic is the the most critical, but meth has not fallen entirely by the wayside.

Coleman says we don’t read about as many make-shift meth labs in the back of cars or homes because less meth is being manufactured in Kentucky. However, meth use is not declining.

“Most of the Methamphetamine on the market now is provided by the Mexican drug cartel. They are able to provide a cheaper product. The meth being made in Kentucky was forty to fifty percent pure.  The meth being brought in by the cartel is almost 100 percent pure,” said Coleman.

Although Coleman readily admits to having focused on Jefferson County’s violent crime problem a great deal over the past two years, he explained why that was, and why it was a valuable expenditure of time for the entire district.

“When I have discussions with other agencies and other officials, they are glad that I have spent the time I have ratifying violent crime and drug trafficking in Jefferson County, because Louisville has become a portal or a hub for so much of the drug trafficking throughout the district, and the majority of the violent crime is associated with that.”

Coleman hopes that his continued efforts in Jefferson County, coupled with his outreach to rural, distance counties across the Pennyrile region will make an impact.

“I am incredibly optimistic, because of the caliber of people we have in law-enforcement in Kentucky,” said Coleman.

“It is not typical for agencies to cooperate, but they are. They are putting their egos aside, and federal, state and local organizations are working together. The size of the threat is driving the collaboration. We live here too, our children live here, too.”

Needless to say, the dedicated US Attorney is eager to put drug traffickers behind bars, but he is also concerned with prevention.

“We cannot keep our heads in the sand. We have to work hard and scale-up efforts there is no margin for error anymore. We have to work with businesses, churches, schools, and nonprofits to see a change,” Coleman said.

A far cry from early forms of public drug abuse education, HEAT (Heroins Education Action Teams) is striving to reach children in a way that they will understand.

“There is a stereotype associated with teenagers who take drugs, but those don’t hold true. It affects kids from all backgrounds,” he said.

Coleman applauds the efforts being made and is pleased to see some results.

The death rate in Kentucky took a significant dip with 233 fewer drug fatalities in 2018 than there were in 2017. Sadly, 1,333 Kentucky drug-related fatalities is still considerable number that soars against national averages.

Coleman knows the statistics and that there is work to be done, and he’s ready to do it.

“I’m a public servant and this is a public service organization,” Coleman said, eager to do away with the stigma of being unreachable or unavailable to distant counties in need.

“We want to work with local organizations and local law enforcement to fix relevant problems.”

“I have a duty,” Coleman said.

To read the second portion of the interview, see next week’s Jobe Publishing papers.

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