The problem of drug abuse affects nearly every household in the area, say organizers of the Stand in the Gap movement, and that's why the effort is continuing and picking up speed and support.
The highlight of the effort thus far has been a prayer march in November of last year, where approximately 8,000 people marched into Cumberland Gap from all three states and gathered for an afternoon of prayer.
"This region is fighting back," said Dan Smoot on Sunday afternoon at the latest meeting.
Smoot is the Vice President and Law Enforcement Director of UNITE, an anti-drug program in Kentucky's Fifth Congressional District, represented by Congressman Hal Rogers. UNITE is fighting the problem with free treatment, drug court, and education in addition to the law enforcement aspect. He shared what his organization is doing to fight drugs, in hopes of helping the SITG effort.
In Kentucky, UNITE has helped to lead the effort to restrict the sale of Sudafed, as well as to restrict the establishment of what's commonly known as "pain management" clinics, which are often covers for pill mills.
"They're a way for people to hide behind a stethoscope and deal drugs," Smoot told the crowd assembled in Duke Hall on the LMU campus.
Another way UNITE is fighting the problem is by uncovering corruption within law enforcement and elected officials.
"My goal is to have a DEA Task Force in Cumberland Gap," he said.
A DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) task force would be federal, and would have federal jurisdiction - essentially "erasing the state borders" in the tri-state area.
"Drug dealers do not want to go to federal court," Smoot said, adding that federal sentencing guidelines are a lot tougher than local and state guidelines.
Smoot admitted to the audience that the area's law enforcement resources are slim to none.
"There is a much bigger problem here than local law enforcement can handle."
Smoot, UNITE, the federal High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA), Kentucky State Police Narcotics, and others have been working with organizers of SITG to bring help to this area. Citizens in this area who would like to report a situation concerning drugs can now use the UNITE tip line: 866-424-4382 and all information will remain anonymous. The hotline is manned personally from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and an answering service is available after that.
"Be specific with the information, and leave your name and a number to call you back if you want," he said. "Everything will remain anonymous."
Smoot said the information will be given to DEA and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents rather than local officials. After several audience members talked about distrust of local law enforcement and wanted assurance that their identities would remain confidential, he assured them that the tip line was available to only registered users from the DEA, KSP Narcotics and UNITE.
"We have asked the DEA to come to Cumberland Gap, with three counties in each state as part of the task force," he said. "UNITE is in. We'll have someone on the task force."
To get the federal task force, however, people must speak up and let their legislators know at both the state and federal levels. Organizer Edwin Robertson told the audience that in a meeting earlier in the week with representatives from federal legislative offices, there was a great interest in helping the area.
"Write letters, send emails," said Danielle Smoot, Dan's wife and Communications Director for U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers. She also serves as field representative for eight counties in Rogers' district.
Rogers became aware of the seriousness of his district's problem and became determined to make a change after seeing headlines in 2003 calling Eastern Kentucky the "Painkiller Capital" of the U.S., she said. He then started UNITE.
He also co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, and only 20 Congressmen are members - out of 435.
"Encourage your Congressman or Congresswoman to become members of the caucus," she said, adding that no one should be afraid to make a phone call or send an email to a legislator.
Stepping outside of her role, however, Danielle told the audience that "the biggest thing you can do is pray. Prayer definitely changes things. You have to start somewhere, though, and you have to take action."
Robertson urged everyone to spread the word about the area's drug problem.
"Let's make sure our voice gets heard," he said.
Plans continue for furthering the effort and more information will be released as it becomes available.