One of the most significant pieces of legislation to come out of this year’s General Assembly session aims to curtail Kentucky’s heroin epidemic.
The bill, which Governor Steve Beshear signed into law Wednesday, toughens penalties for traffickers and increases treatment options for addicts.
Executive Director Van Ingram in the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy is glad a needle exchange program made it into the final bill.
"We have Hepatitis C rates that are skyrocketing in this state," Ingram told WKU Public Radio. "The good news is that there's treatment for Hepatitis C now. The bad news is it's $100,000 per patient and a majority of those patients are on Medicaid," he added. "This is important. If we can reduce Hepatitis C exposure, we save tons of money and lives, as well."
Some state lawmakers criticized the needle exchange component of the law, arguing it sent the wrong message and might encourage more drug use.
Local health departments would have the option of creating needles exchanges, allowing addicts to trade out dirty needles for clean ones. Health departments would first need approval from city and county governments.
Ingram says 2014 data isn’t available yet, but he expects about 30 percent of overdoses deaths in Kentucky were heroin-related. That’s compared to three years ago when about five percent of overdose deaths were the result of heroin use.