heroin

Taxpayers will spend money to keep heroin dealers in prison longer and to give addicts a steady supply of clean needles under a bill that has passed the state legislature designed to curb Kentucky's alarming increase of overdose deaths.

The bill passed late Tuesday and is the result of more three years of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans who had deep philosophical differences about how to treat addicts and the criminal penalties that should be imposed on them and their dealers.

Lawmakers agreed to let local governments set up needle-exchange programs where addicts can swap dirty needles for clean ones in an effort to prevent disease and death. And it toughens penalties for some heroin dealers, requiring them to serve at least 50 percent of their sentence.

Gov. Steve Beshear is expected to sign the bill.

Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons

On the last day of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 session, Attorney General Jack Conway called on legislators to pass a bill to deal with the state’s growing heroin problem.

“I hope here on the final day of the legislative session that the legislature gets its act together,” Conway said during a news conference.

So far, lawmakers have been squabbling over differing versions of the bill. A heroin bill died in the final minutes of last year’s session.

Conway, a Democrat who is also running for governor, said the bill should include tougher penalties for major heroin traffickers and more funding for treatment. He also called for a bill that would make an overdose-reversing drug called naloxone more available. His stance is the same as House Democrats.

“Four simple provisions that are relatively non-controversial that need to be passed, that need to be passed by midnight tonight because people are dying, because law enforcement officials are having trouble dealing with the problem and prosecutors need help in trying to rid our streets of this scourge,” Conway said.

A committee headed by Conway and First Lady Jane Beshear has distributed 2,000 naloxone kits to the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Northern Kentucky.

The total cost for the kits is over $100,000. The kits were funded as part of a $32 million settlement between the state and two pharmaceutical companies. The settlement money has also gone to fund nonprofit treatment programs across the state and provide users with “scholarships” to treatment programs.

Kentucky LRC

With two working days to go, Kentucky lawmakers still haven’t nailed down legislation to address the state’s growing heroin problem and it’s ailing teachers pension system.

On Friday, legislators from both chambers met for hours, trying to craft compromises on the bills.

A solution is starting to take shape to help shore up the teachers pension system, but the House and Senate remain divided on sentencing guidelines in the heroin bill.

Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to pass laws.

Heroin

Representatives and senators were still at odds Friday afternoon over needle exchanges, sentencing guidelines for heroin traffickers, and whether to include a “good Samaritan” clause that would provide immunity to those who report heroin overdoses.

Senate President Robert Stivers repeatedly suggested that the committee stop arguing and produce a bill that only includes points that lawmakers agree on: making overdose-reversing drug naloxone more available and increasing funding for treatment programs.

Kentucky LRC

Kentucky lawmakers say they’ve come a long way in coming up with a legislative solution to the state’s heroin epidemic, but no consensus has emerged on the biggest sticking point—how to punish heroin traffickers.

The House wants to keep the state’s current law that gives low-level heroin traffickers lighter prison sentences. The Senate wants strict sentencing across the board.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Taylor Mill Republican and candidate for lieutenant governor, said strict sentencing guidelines would still allow prosecutors to use discretion and provide reduced charges for “peddlers.”

“We believe that we need to trust our prosecutors locally to make these decisions and we trust our prosecutors,” he said.

On Thursday, a conference committee made up of six representatives and six senators attempted to hammer out final details of the bill. To get heroin legislation passed in this session, both the state House and Senate would have to vote on a final version of the bill on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat and author of the House version of the bill, said lawmakers need to “legislate to the bad” prosecutors—to prevent low-level traffickers and addicts from entering the prison system.

Tilley said current law already has tough penalties for traffickers, and he pointed out that low-level drug dealers would receive a Class C felony if they received a second trafficking offense.

Senators also took issue with a House proposal to add $10 million dollars for drug treatment to the bill.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, said House lawmakers need to identify the source for the additional funding.

“I think we all have to take a realistic look: where are those monies coming from,” Stivers asked.

The provision for additional money had been proposed by Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat and candidate for lieutenant governor.

Kevin Willis

The Kentucky General Assembly adjourned late Wednesday night for a week and a half while Gov. Steve Beshear considers vetoes—and no bill addressing the state’s rising heroin problems had been passed.

Lawmakers will have two days to pass a final bill: March 23 and 24.

Both chambers have selected members for a conference committee, which will now try to hammer out the final details of a compromise.

Senate President Robert Stivers remains confident that a heroin bill will be finalized over the course of the break.

“I think the discussions when we come back everything would be resolved by that time, because when we get back on the 23rd and 24th I think the die will be cast and hopefully everything will be prepared,” Stivers said.

The starting point of discussion will be a bill sponosored Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat, who has worked with House and Senate leader to come up with a compromise piece of legislation.

“It represents some advancement in the progress that we’ve had in meeting with our Senate counterparts over the last several weeks,” Tilley said during a House Floor speech on Wednesday.

The bill looks a lot like a version the House passed last month: it would punish heroin traffickers with increasing penalties depending on how much of the drug they have, and it would allow local health districts to set up needle exchanges.

Kevin Willis

Several Kentucky legislators on Friday spoke against a provision in the House’s heroin bill that would allow local health districts to start needle exchanges—but the chamber unanimously passed the bill.

“Maybe giving free needles for people to use illicit drugs sends an equally bad impression to our youth,” said Rep. Stan Lee, a Republican from Lexington.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, a Republican from Florence, proposed removing the needle exchange provision so it could be vetted by committee.

But the sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat from Hopkinsville, said needle exchanges are often the first point of contact between addicts and those who can help them recover.

The needle exchange provision was ultimately included in the bill.

The Kentucky House of Representatives now has its own version of a bill that seeks to combat the state’s heroin epidemic.

There are a few key distinctions between the House proposal revealed Monday and the bill that passed the Kentucky Senate earlier this year, including a provision that would allow local health districts to set up needle exchange programs. Needle exchanges have been a major hang-up for Senate Republicans in the past.

Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat from Hopkinsville, said a needle exchange program can be the first point of contact between addicts and people who can help.

“We are at wit’s end in the state, and for the country for that matter, to find things that will actually work, that will actually reduce drug-use that actually will get addicts into treatment, will break the cycle of addiction,” Tilley said.

The Kentucky Senate passed a bill on the third day of the legislative session last month, but the House has yet to produce a bill this session addressing the state’s heroin problem.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, on Tuesday said he has issues with the upper chamber’s version—specifically, the bill’s provision to fund treatment programs.

“The Senate [version of the bill] spent money—and nobody is against rehabilitation—but the Senate spent money that wasn’t really there, and it’s kind of a bit of a false promise, I’m afraid,” Stumbo said

Bill Would Let Overdose Victims Avoid Prosecution

Nov 21, 2014
Kentucky LRC

Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill that would allow some people who overdose on heroin or witness an overdose to avoid charges if they immediately seek help from public safety officials.

Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is sponsoring the bill, said during a press conference in Covington on Friday that it is an attempt to combat the state's growing heroin addiction problem.

Heroin overdose deaths now account for 32 percent of the state's drug overdose deaths, up from 20 percent in 2012. Northern Kentucky has seen largest increase in overdose heroin deaths.

The bill would also stiffen penalties for heroin traffickers and spend more money on drug treatment programs. A similar bill failed to pass earlier this year despite broad support from both political parties.

Kentucky state Senate Republicans leaders say heroin legislation will rank among their top legislative priorities in 2015.

CN2 Pure Politics reports that GOP Senator Chris McDaniel will be the lead sponsor of the bill, which he says will target drug traffickers while also offering more treatment options to addicts.

Anti-heroin legislation introduced by a Republican lawmaker passed the Senate during this year’s General Assembly, but wasn’t passed by the Democratic-led House. Several lawmakers were concerned about the legality of a provision in the bill that would have charged dealers with murder if someone they sold to overdosed.

Read more stories related to heroin in the commonwealth here.

Heroin has been taking an increasing toll on the Bluegrass State, with the northern Kentucky region especially hard hit. A recent report from the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy shows that while the number of total overdoses remained steady in 2013, deaths caused by heroin increased by more than 12 percent.

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