By Eli Capilouto
President, University of Kentucky
Between 20 percent and 30 percent of Kentuckians know someone who abuses heroin or prescription drugs, according to a recently published report.
That means roughly one million Kentuckians are affected directly in some way by the scourge of drugs.
Think about it: a million Kentuckians.
In Lexington, a recent statewide survey reported, about 20 percent of people know someone affected by heroin, and a full third know someone affected by pill abuse.
And too many people in this community know all too well that drugs don’t discriminate by ZIP code or neighborhood, by race or ethnicity, by status or station in life.
They destroy everything in their path.
I think about this cycle of death and its impacts when the inevitable questions arise about federal funding for research that takes place at the University of Kentucky and other institutions.
Soon, Congress will face the arduous task of hammering out a federal budget for the coming year. A major part of what has been proposed by President Donald Trump is a significant reduction — nearly 20 percent — in funding for federal research.
Through competitive grants, institutions in Kentucky — UK being the largest recipient by far — received nearly $164 million last year for research into cancer, diabetes, heart disease and opioid addiction, along with other debilitating diseases and afflictions.
Research doesn’t always yield instant results. In fact, it rarely does. Researchers often spend years asking basic scientific questions, not sure what the result will be, much less knowing whether something groundbreaking will occur.
But research is a wager on our future.
It is the idea that our brainpower, harnessed in common cause and against uncommon and insidious disease, can find answers. We know this idea works because of our past and because of what is happening today.
What do we get for the public’s investment in the National Institutes of Health? According to NIH, here is a record of just some of the accomplishments that came about due in large part to federally funded research:
? In 1960, 26 of every 1,000 babies born in our country died before their first birthday. In 2013, that number was less than six of every 1,000.
? HIV testing and preventive measures have resulted in a 90 percent decrease in the number of children infected with HIV immediately before and after birth.
? An NIH-financed clinical trial resulted in the drug treatment used for the most common type of stroke.
? NIH-financed research has helped decrease deaths from heart disease by nearly 70 percent and stroke mortality rate by nearly 80 percent.
? The death rates for all cancers have declined since the 1990s for adults and, since the 1970s, for children.
Closer to home, Kentucky families face — at rates far higher than the national average — incidences of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and stroke, to name just a few.
With the support of the NIH, UK is seeking solutions to these pressing health challenges. And we are making a difference.
Colorectal cancer incidence rates in the state have declined by 25 percent, as screenings have increased under UK initiatives and state-level policy changes. Kentucky’s mortality rate from colorectal cancer has dropped 30 percent.
And UK faculty converged last month with policymakers and researchers from across the nation for the National Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. The summit brought together stakeholders from all levels of government, business, academia, treatment and community leadership to address the scourge of opioid abuse.
Much of our work is supported with federal grants from agencies in the NIH; last year, UK investigators received $9.6 million to address substance abuse and addiction from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. With those dollars, we are examining the causes of addiction and what treatments work best to turn the tide against it.
We don’t need to retreat. We need to continue our advance. Big challenges require big efforts and big numbers.
However, when I think about the impact of federal research and the investments being made, I don’t think in billions.
I think about one million Kentuckians; I think about a third of the people in our community — more than 100,000 people — knowing too well the devastation of pill abuse.
The numbers haunt me. The challenges should embolden all of us.
We can change those numbers if we are willing to continue to invest in research: research that saves lives and changes communities. It’s research that will not accept one million Kentuckians — and hundreds of people in our community — being affected any longer.
Eli Capilouto is the 12th president of the University of Kentucky.