A Kentucky lawmaker is taking issue with proposed legislation aimed at tackling the state’s growing heroin problem.
Legislation from Republican Sen. Katie Stine would raise penalties for heroin traffickers and punish dealers by reclassifying overdose deaths as criminal homicide when there is sufficient evidence.
Although Stine says her legislation would also attempt to shore up drug treatment efforts, Sen. Perry Clark, a Democrat from Louisville, says it's another misstep in the failed War on Drugs.
“I’ve voted against it in the past, I’ll probably vote against it in the future. She’s using the same old law enforcement, criminal technique against drugs that don’t work.”
Clark says he does support the idea of a “Good Samaritan” law, in which individuals who bring an overdose victim to the attention of emergency services may be granted immunity. Stine has said her measure would include such a provision.
A report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet says that heroin deaths in Kentucky have risen 550 percent between 2011 and 2012.
A report released Friday shows that overdose deaths in Kentucky declined in 2012—the first time there has been such a drop in a decade.
But the report issued by the Office of Drug Control Policy also found that heroin deaths in the commonwealth last year increased by 550 percent over 2011.
The office’s executive director, Van Ingram, says Kentucky first started seeing an increase in heroin use and overdoses when the formulation for the painkillers Oxycontin and Opana were changed in order to make them more difficult for intravenous drug use.
The report also shows that two of the counties in the top ten for overdose deaths in 2011 and 2012 are in our listening area. Whitley County was eighth, with 56 overdose deaths per 100,000 people.
Monroe County was ninth, with 53 deaths per 100,000 people.
Statistics show cases of hepatitis C have exploded in northern Kentucky. Due to the increase, the Independent Health Department District is offering free blood testing to anyone concerned about the chronic blood-borne disease that affects the liver. The department is also encouraging people in high-risk groups to get tested.
The area had 23 cases of acute hepatitis C in 2010, 42 in 2011 and 44 in 2012. Officials have said the heroin epidemic in the area is likely a factor in the increase.
Health department spokeswoman Emily Gresham Wherle said anyone who tests positive for the disease will be provided with counseling, education and care options. She says the health department also hopes to get a better understanding of the prevalence of the problem.