Kentucky Seeing Major Public Policy Shift in How Drug Offenders are Treated

Aug 5, 2016

John Tilley (right) is Kentucky's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary.
Credit Kentucky LRC

Kentucky is undergoing rapid changes in how it treats drug offenders.

A growing number of communities are offering needle exchange programs for IV drug users. There’s a greater availability of naloxone, a drug which counters the effects of an opioid overdose. The state legislature passed a bill this year offering more treatment options for heroin addicts.

Someone with an up-close view of these recent changes is John Tilley, a former Kentucky House member from Hopkinsville who now serves as Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

Tilley says there’s been a growing recognition from both conservatives and liberals that simply throwing drug addicts in jail doesn’t cure the problem.

“First, I think there’s a clear recognition that, in this state, seemingly all crime is drug crime or drug-related," Tilley told WKU Public Radio. "It’s well over 90 percent, if you talk to any prosecutor. That is certainly driving our prison population. There’s a recognition now that a lot of this drug scourge is a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal justice one. I think there’s a recognition that our prison population is increasing at a rate that we cannot sustain; there is no clear return on investment.”

In an interview with WKU Public Radio, Tilley talked about the changing mindset regarding drug treatment in Kentucky, and the possibility of further changes to the state’s marijuana laws. You can hear our interview by clicking on the Listen button at the top of the page.