The Richmond Register

Local News

December 21, 2013

Proposal seeks to curb heroin abuse in Kentucky

Statewide overdose deaths increased by 650 percent last year

FRANKFORT — Kentucky lawmakers reacting to a surge in heroin overdose deaths said Thursday they will push for legislation next year calling for tougher punishment for high-level traffickers and more treatment for addicts of the dangerously addictive drug.

Touting the proposal being prepared for the 2014 General Assembly session were Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, a Republican, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, a Democrat. The bill was praised by state Attorney General Jack Conway.

“We believe this bill has the potential to save lives,” Conway, a Democrat, said at a state Capitol press conference.

Statewide heroin overdose deaths increased by 650 percent last year, and state officials said the trend appears to be continuing. Conway noted that nine people died from heroin overdoses in Lexington in just a few weeks.

“Overdoses have become a daily occurrence in northern Kentucky,” said Stine, who represents a district in the area.

Stine said heroin cases are swamping the area’s court system and jails. Addiction has become so prevalent, she said, that it’s hurting economic development efforts “by making it hard to find employees who can pass a drug test.”

In recent years, Kentucky lawmakers have passed legislation to combat the rise in prescription drug abuse, synthetic drugs and methamphetamine production. Now heroin is emerging as a primary target in the legislative session that opens in early January.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Thursday that legislation to crack down on heroin stands a good chance of passing the chamber. He advocated a balanced approach that mixes punishing traffickers and treating those hooked on the drug.

“You want to delineate between the individual who is addicted and could be helped out of that problem, versus the guy that’s the profiteer,” Stivers said in an interview.

Sen. John Schickel, also from northern Kentucky, is proposing legislation that would impose harsher sentences for heroin trafficking. Under his proposal, a person would be charged with first-degree trafficking if they knowingly sold any amount of heroin.

The proposal touted by Stine and Tilley would require high-volume heroin traffickers to serve at least half their prison sentences before becoming eligible for parole. They currently have to serve at least one-fifth of their sentences before reaching parole eligibility.

The proposal also seeks to make it easier to prosecute heroin traffickers on homicide charges if their customers die from overdoses. Traffickers could no longer claim they didn’t know heroin can kill. They also could no longer use the victim’s actions of voluntarily taking the drug as a defense.

Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said the proposal punishes traffickers while focusing on treatment.

“If demand exists, there will always be another trafficker,” he said. “So we must concentrate on treatment, prevention and education and the prosecution of those who would dare peddle this misery.”

The proposal seeks to help more addicts turn their lives around. It seeks to do so by directing that money saved from the state’s corrections reform law be used to fund treatment and anti-drug education programs.

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