STANFORD — Anti-drug efforts in Lincoln County are about to get a shot in the arm, thanks to recent congressional redistricting.
When Lincoln was recast in Kentucky's fifth U.S. congressional district in February 2012, it opened the door for the multi-faceted programs offered by Operation UNITE.
UNITE is an anti-drug organization formed in 2003 by fifth-district U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers to combat addiction in his southeastern Kentucky counties. It stands for "Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education."
UNITE attempts to reduce drug-use by working with local law enforcement to catch dealers, offering free drug-treatment options to low-income addicts, promoting the use of drug courts and educating children about the dangers of drugs, said Dan Smoot, President and CEO of UNITE, at a meeting in Stanford last week.
The meeting was held to inform Lincoln community leaders about the many programs offered by UNITE, as efforts from the organization ramp up in the county.
"There is so much to offer, and it's just a matter of reaching out and taking advantage," Smoot said. "And it's all free."
Steve Gates, chair of the local Lincoln County UNITE Coalition, said the local coalition's initial action plan is focused heavily on educating students about the dangers of drug-use.
"We believe that you have to get them early now, unfortunately, in elementary school and provide them with that positive message that you don't need drugs," Gates said. "I believe personally that education is a whole lot better than trying to rehab because we'll never catch up with rehab."
Programs that UNITE will help the coalition set up include after-school archery and a "back-to-school bash" that will provide school supplies along with anti-drug information.
Gates said Lincoln County has had its own anti-drug coalition for six years, but joining forces with UNITE will allow the coalition to have a much more significant impact.
"It takes money, and that's what was missing," he said. "That little infusion of what they provide will enable us to be far more effective."
According to historical data from UNITE, it has had many large-scale impacts over its 10-year history, including:
• a 97.1-percent conviction rate for 3,874 arrested individuals;
• approximately $12 million worth of drugs removed from Kentucky streets;
• helping 1,681 individuals successfully complete drug-treatment programs;
• helping 1,324 individuals graduate from drug court; and
• reaching more than 73,000 youth with educational programs.
Lincoln County Sheriff Curt Folger said getting UNITE to do work in Lincoln County was something he wanted seven years ago when he first become sheriff.
But because Lincoln wasn't inside Rogers' district at the time, it wasn't an option.
"We were in kind of a no-man's land before with districting," Folger said. "Now with Hal Rogers in our district, we've got UNITE on our side."