ASHLAND Boyd County is just one of 67 counties in Robert Duncan Jr.’s district, but alarming numbers keep it firmly on his radar.
With 27 fatal drug overdoses in 2018, Boyd County was ranked the highest death-by-overdose per capita (60.49) in the state based on Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy data.
Duncan, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky since November 2017, frequently talks with local law enforcement agencies on how to properly combat a statewide drug problem.
Duncan, who grew up in Inez, met with Ashland Police Chief Todd Kelley to discuss important issues on Thursday afternoon.
“He’s going to play a very important role as we take on these endeavors,” Kelley said. “He gave us some encouragement as they are tackling these things at a federal level.”
Duncan noted the rise of methamphetamine cases across the Commonwealth, and the accompanying dangers. Present-day methamphetamine cases have a high correlation with violent crime. The drug is mass-produced and relatively cheap, he added.
“Most of the meth we see now is at least 90% pure, if not higher,” Duncan said. “It’s made in a manner that it makes it much more readily available. ... We’re seeing an intersection between meth and violent crime. Many cases that we prosecute involve trafficking meth while armed. Meth and violent crimes tend to go hand in hand, in my experience.”
Added Kelley: “It’s something that’s sparked all across the nation. More use of meth does increase violence. Unfortunately, those things go together.”
Duncan is a Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) advocate. On Oct. 4, Duncan’s office announced PSN progress, citing an FBI Uniform Crime Report that showed a 3.9% drop in violent crime across the nation.
“With PSN, we try to identify the most violent criminals and remove them from communities,” Duncan said, “thereby we hope to improve the community and quality of life.”
As for the drugs, opioids are the “most acute drug problem because they’re killing the biggest number of citizens in our district,” Duncan said.
The top five counties in overdose deaths per capita — Boyd, Madison, Clark, Kenton and Campbell — dwell in the Eastern District, which is headquartered in Lexington. Statewide, the number of OD deaths decreased from 1,468 in 2017 to 1,247 in 2018 — that’s a 15% drop.
“Roughly 230 lives were saved because of that decrease,” Duncan said.
In Boyd County, there were 31 OD deaths in 2017 and the aforementioned 27 in ‘18. There have 21 confirmed cases so far this year, according to Boyd County Coroner Mark Hammond.
“This is certainly troubling,” Duncan said specifically of Boyd’s statistics.
Duncan said the Eastern District is working to crack down on pill mills.
“There are doctors who are unnecessarily prescribing and dispensing while also committing healthcare fraud,” he said. “But I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. The vast majority in the medical community are in it for the right reasons. There’s a small subset of outliers.”
The Eastern District is concentrating on a number of other issues as well, including child exploitation and phone/email scams, particular those targeting the elderly.
“Sometimes if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Duncan said. “The IRS isn’t going to call you up and ask you for money.”
Locally, Duncan said, the Eastern District has a “very good relationship with law enforcement.” Duncan has a personal tie to Ashland, too. The 41-year-old was born at King’s Daughters and lived in Ashland for two years in his 20s.
“He’s a lifelong resident of northeastern Kentucky, and he wants to make a difference,” Kelley said. “We can continue to work in a great partnership.”
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