By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
Proposed legislation before the Kentucky General Assembly aims to combat the state’s growing heroin problem using three strategies – education, treatment and law enforcement aid.
Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, is one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 5. The bill was passed in the Senate earlier this year, 36-1, and is waiting to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee.
Co-sponsor and Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, is passionate about the bill, which is similar to one she championed in the 2013 General Assembly. It passed in the Senate but did not get heard in the House.
“It was actually a good thing,” Stine said, of the bill’s previous failure.
Since then, she has met with various government, treatment and drug education agencies, legislators and officials to revamp the proposal and give it even more strength toward combating heroin addiction and trafficking.
Northern Kentucky, which Stine represents, felt the initial impact when heroin began flooding southward into Kentucky last year from northern cities such as Detroit and Chicago.
Madison County is now dealing with the high cost of heroin addiction as overdoses, sometimes fatal, have risen, according to Coroner Jimmy Cornelison. All of the county’s police agencies are struggling to deal with an influx of large-scale traffickers who are often aided by local addicts.
The Senate bill focuses on three areas in a comprehensive approach to solving the problem.
The first is education. Stine said the bill redirects money saved by lowering incarceration rates for other nonviolent crimes toward Kentucky’s Agency for Substance Abuse Policy. Madison County has an active ASAP chapter that works to educate young people about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.
“We need to let kids know if you try heroin just once, you can be addicted for life,” Stine said.
She said it was important to not create new government-backed groups to deal with the education portion of the bill, and instead provide funding to an already-existing agency.
The second prong of the bill is focused on treatment. First, it has language that allows the state Medicaid program to cover drug treatment for addicts.
Addiction would be treated through the healthcare program like any other illness or disease, such as “cancer or an ear infection,” Stine said.
The bill also will allow doctors to prescribe naloxone (Narcan) to responsible third-parties who may be able to administer it people who are suffering an opiate overdose. This injectable drug has the ability to save lives, and is widely used by emergency medical personnel to immediately bring a person out of the affects of a deadly overdose.
The bill will allow family or friends of addicts to keep a supply of Narcan on hand so they can act quickly. There also is a “good Samaritan” clause that will shield a person from criminal and civil liability if he or she administers the drug in a good-faith effort to save someone’s life.
This clause also extends criminal immunity to anyone who seeks medical help for a person suffering from an overdose and remains with the victim until help arrives.
Finally, the bill has language that cracks down on high-volume heroin traffickers. Anyone who sells a Schedule I controlled substance to a person who later dies from an overdose of that drug can be prosecuted for homicide.
This is already a law on the federal level, according to Stine.
The bill also states that if a person is convicted of trafficking in a Schedule I controlled substance, which includes cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, he shall not be eligible for any type of probation, parole or early release until serving at least 50 percent of his sentence.
Finally, the bill also directs the Department of Criminal Justice Training at Eastern Kentucky University to provide voluntary, regionalized in-house training on the topic of heroin. It should include “instructional material on the detection and interdiction of heroin trafficking, the dynamics of heroin abuse, and available treatment options for addicts.”
Stine fears the bill may not be voted on by the House before the close of the current legislative session at the end of March. Carpenter, however, was more confident, noting that Senate bills usually aren’t heard in the House until near the end of the session.
Stine and Carpenter both encouraged Kentuckians who support the legislation to call their representatives and ask them to vote for the bill.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.