Kentucky Senate passes bill that could make heroin traffickers face homicide charges

SB 5 passed 36-0 Thursday with Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, passing.

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

The Senate passed a bill Thursday to combat the state’s growing heroin problem, though not without questions during a committee hearing earlier in the day on certain provisions’ constitutionality.

Senate Bill 5 passed 36-0 with Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, passing.

SB 5 would require those convicted of trafficking more than 4 grams of heroin or methamphetamine to serve at least 50 percent of their prison sentence before becoming eligible for probation, parole or early release. Traffickers could be charged with homicide in cases of overdose deaths, and the bill would require coroners to report overdoses caused by Schedule I drugs, such as heroin.

“The bill targets two different groups: the trafficker, who needs to be run out of Kentucky or locked up; and the addict, who has broken the law but has created their own personal prison of addiction that is worse than any jail this state could design and needs treatment,” the bill’s sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, said.

The legislation would allow the Department of Medicaid Services to expand treatment options and direct a quarter of savings realized through a corrections reform bill passed in 2011 to supplement the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.

SB 5 would also allow police officers and emergency responders to carry and administer naloxone, a drug used to counter opiate overdoses; grant immunity from drug possession charges for those seeking help for someone overdosing; and grant immunity from paraphernalia charges for those who alert law enforcement of any hypodermic needles or sharp objects in their possession before a search. Some could be given leniency for helping prosecute other drug crimes.

Kentucky Office of Drug Control Police Executive Director Van Ingram said the state has had problems with opioid addiction for years, and the heroin trend has evolved from opiate-based painkillers such as OxyContin and Opana. The numbers of heroin overdoses and confiscations have risen dramatically in recent years, he said.

“Senate Bill 5, I think, takes a broad view and it hits on a number of things, all aimed at reducing the availability of heroin, educating our citizens about heroin and some harm reduction things to try to keep people alive,” Ingram said during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“We can’t get people into treatment and we can’t get them leading productive lives if they’re gone.”

Supporters of the bill cross party lines with Stine, R-Southgate, Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway backing the measure.

The heroin issue extends beyond northern Kentucky, which supporters of SB 5 spotlight as an area of the state wracked by heroin addiction because of its close proximity to Cincinnati. Clay Mason, public safety commissioner for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, said central Kentucky has seen a rise in heroin abuse in recent years.

“This is not a back alley drug situation from the movies of the late ’60s and early ’70s. This is anybody’s problem,” Mason told the committee. “There are many, many people who, as we’ve already heard, have gone from a pill prescription addiction problem and now rolling into heroin for a multitude of reasons — price and availability.”

Ernie Lewis, a lobbyist for the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, raised concerns about the constitutionality of certain parts of SB 5, specifically in prosecuting dealers of Schedule I substances whose drugs cause overdose deaths.

Offenders convicted of homicide or fetal homicide where the victim dies from such an overdose would not be eligible for release until serving at least half his or her sentence, under SB 5.

Lewis specifically pointed to a provision eliminating the defense that victims contributed to their deaths by willingly ingesting substances, sometimes more than the Schedule I drugs at the center of SB 5.

“Many overdose deaths occur when a person combines drugs; they combine that cocktail, unfortunately,” he said. “They may take cocaine, they may take Xanax, they may take other benzos (benzodiazepine, a psychoactive drug) or opioids. Sometimes the defendant is not even aware of that because that might have occurred earlier, because when you’re sick, you take whatever’s available to you.

“… Foreseeability has to do with the awareness of a risk. The prosecution has to prove awareness of a risk, and this provision says as a matter of law, the risk is there, we’re going to presume it, and they can’t do that under the due process of laws.”

SB 5 is meant to clarify an issue raised in a 2000 Kentucky Supreme Court decision overturning a reckless homicide conviction in which the victim died of an overdose from a mixture of cocaine and heroin, Stine and Tilley said.

“It seems to me that all that provision is doing is eliminating the ‘blame the victim’ defense, and I think we can all agree that’s not a bad thing.”

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  • The way that CURRENT law reads, anyone who simply possesses 4 grams of heroin, regardless of the quality, is automatically assumed by the government to be a trafficker.  According to dependable sources, 4 grams is about a 2 day's supply for most addicts if it is of really good quality.  It is unrealistic to expect that someone who is addicted to a drug to only keep a 2 day supply before having to find a source to replenish their supply. It is also not economically feasible for them to buy their drug of choice in such small quantities in the most expensive way possible. Therefore, the law is unworkable from a practical standpoint. While lawmakers give lip service to their so-called humanitarian slant to the "victims", in reality is is just a way to mask their ultra draconian measures.

    The government's commonly used trumped-up second degree trafficking of a controlled substance charges for mere possession of an extremely small quantity belies any fairness or justice of the system. The facts and the truth surely become garbled in this War on Some Drugs Other Than Alcohol and Tobacco of ours, by DESIGN, as the initial intent of these laws were for organized crime drug kingpins selling tons of their wares.  The fact is that these sick folks don't have to be caught trying to sell anybody anything. But the law allows the most mentally and emotionally disturbed users trying to self medicate their misery to be charged with trafficking drugs when all that they were doing was possessing a certain small quantity of them.

    Maybe I am just old fashioned about this, but shouldn't our criminal justice system be required to operate on a much higher standard than this, where lies and exaggerations are commonplace in the court room, and all with a straight face? Why do we the people tolerate this charade simply because illicit drugs are involved? We are on an extremely slippery slope here...where is this all going to end?

    This type of nod-and-wink "justice" is a classic case of REALLY BIG GOVERNMENT overreach, where the authorities seem to be thinking that they can somehow read the minds of those who possess drugs and make the giant leap that they KNOW that they were going to sell them. How smug the legislators must have been to think that government officials possess superhuman abilities of telepathy and then base intent on nothing more than possession of a relatively small quantity of contraband. If someone has a gun collection of 30 rifles, does the law assume that they are going to sell them to people who cannot pass a background check? No.

    This illogical and extremely slippery slope is somehow tolerated by the people simply because it concerns demonized illegal drugs, but it is a Pandora's Box that could easily lead us to something like in the movie "Minority Report". This movie is set in 2054, where "PreCrime", a specialized police department, apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called "precogs". The film's central theme is the question of free will versus determinism, the role of preventive government in "protecting" its citizenry, and the role of media in a future state where electronic advancements make its presence nearly boundless. In our present world, the War on Some Drugs Other Than Alcohol and Tobacco has already taken that giant leap into determinism with these laws, and is using electronic surveilance (NSA) to collect incriminating evidence without a warrant or any other 4th Amendment will not end there, the precogs told me.

  • Wanna compare the health impacts of cigarettes to heroin next...we can do that, but I must warn you, it is even MORE onesided than the compario to "holiday spirits" (that sounds like a religious diety).

  • Like I have said before, if you are booting black tar heroin everyday, then the drug is the least of your is merely a symptom.  These folks that the Sheriff has been arresting with 1 or 2 grams of heroin are not hard core junkies...that wouldn't last them a day if they were.  And for those of you who are keeping score between the health impacts on the demonized heroin user and the guy who just enjoys sucking down "holiday spirits" (as the Editor calls them) made by several major drug manufacturers right here in our community and served world wide, here are the facts from the National Institute of really is no contest:

    According to the NIH:

    "Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health including addiction.  Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:

    Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.  

    Up to 80 percent of alcoholics have a deficiency in thiamine, and some of these people will go on to develop serious brain disorders such as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). WKS is a disease that consists of two separate syndromes, a short–lived and severe condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy and a long–lasting and debilitating condition known as Korsakoff’s psychosis.

    The symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes (i.e., oculomotor disturbances), and difficulty with muscle coordination. 

    Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

    Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
    Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
    High blood pressure  

    Research also shows that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease.

    Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

    Steatosis, or fatty liver
    Alcoholic hepatitis

    Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion. 

    Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:


    Immune System:
    Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease.  Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.  Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk."


    And then there is heroin:

    "Major health problems from heroin include miscarriages, heart infections, addiction and death from overdose. People who inject the drug also risk getting infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.


    No contest, like I said.  The biggest problem with heroin is that it is illegal (and 1/3 of the major health problems that the NIH cites would be voided if heroin were more drug overdoses and HIV/hepatitis).


    I am not making this stuff up...are you?


  • sj; "“This is not a back alley drug situation from the movies of the late ’60s and early ’70s. This is anybody’s problem,” Mason told the committee."

    Well, actually, NO IT IS NOT!  It is still effecting a very tiny percentage of very sick misfits out there.  There were just 143 heroin related deaths in KY last year...a state of 4.3 million people...that is measured in thousandths of a percent (0.0003%).  This is not the stuff of epicemics, scouges or any other hyperbolic terms used to instill fear out there by the police.

    In 2010, only 7 million people (2.2% o US pop.) used psychotherapeutic drugs (including stimulants, tranquilizers, painkillers and sedatives) for non-medical purposes, and 1.2 million people used hallucinogens, according to the study.  The numbers are similar to the past few years.
    One and a half million people used cocaine, similar to recent years' study results but a drop of nearly 1 million from 2006.  Methamphetamine use dropped by more than half between 2006 and 2010, to only a 10th of 1% of the population, according to the survey. So much for the meth problem!

  • SJ: "SB 5 would also allow police officers and emergency responders to carry and administer naloxone, a drug used to counter opiate overdoses; grant immunity from drug possession charges for those seeking help for someone overdosing;"

    Yeah, so let's get this straight...we are going to allow police officers to perform complex medical evaluations on-site, diagnose the "problem" and then administer an injectable drug that has serious side effect when used exactly as intended by trained physicians...iwhat possibly could go wrong here?

    General Side Effects

    Naloxone reverses the analgesic and depressive properties of opiates, and may cause muscle pain, body aches, diarrhea , rapid heartbeat, fever, sweating, nausea or vomiting, irritability, tremor, weakness, fatigue and increased blood pressure when used in conjunction with an opiate. Central nervous system depression, along with slowed heartbeat and shallow breathing leading to coma, can also by reversed by Naloxone, creating a rapid heartbeat and speeding up respiration in the process.

    Serious Side Effects

    The serious side effects of Naloxone can be life-threatening. If serious side effects are experienced, a medical doctor must be notified immediately. Serious side effects include chest pain or heartbeat irregularities, light-headedness or fainting, seizures or convulsions, or difficulty breathing . The symptoms experienced can increase as time goes by, so fast medical intervention is highly advised.

    This is a classic case of laymen who have no professional medical experiance, responding with their fear to a problem that they don't understand. 

  • SJ: "The Senate passed a bill Thursday to combat the state’s growing heroin problem..."

    Keven, are you sure that that is a true statement?  What data other than opinions of authorities supports such a claim?  Authorities have been telling us that heroin was growing menace for over 50 years now, so where is the proof?  It still effects a very tiny minority of our citizens.  It is not a drug that effects our kids, or they would be getting arrested right along with all of the others.  Kids are inherently stupid abut hiding such things, so they WOULD be getting arrested.  Where are the bodies?

    The State Journal is perpetuating myths like this about how prevalent drug use is in Franklin County.   There are actually otherwise intellegent friends of mine who read your paper and believe that a "new heroin epidemic" is taking over our sleepy little town, when in actuality it is the same tiny group of social misfits and sick people that have always been here.  What is "new" is the police's zero tolerance drug policies and their point of emphasis to catch all of them...and it is working.  They are going through this small group of heroin users like aids through gays in San Fransico, getting them to rat each other out to save their own skins, and pretty soon their will be none...just like the pop bottle meth "epidemic" that we went through last year.  Read about any meth busts lately? Me neither.  

    Where is the SJ's jounalistic intergrity?

  • Prohibition has been a failure every time it has been tried...all that is causes is for orgainized crime to exponentially increase with all of its violence, death and associated corruption.  There is not a politician born that doesn't have his price, and prohibition lowballs them all.  If it isn't heroin, meth or something else glamorous and demonized, it will be anything with a solvent in it...we can't stop it...we can't really even slow it down.  And these fools are wasting Billions on it trying to do something that they should know does not work and never has. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it!

  •  I applaud Kentucky officials for addressing the silent epidemic of drug abuse in our nation and passing strict laws to reprimand the ones that fuel the problem. Let’s not fool ourselves believing that drug dealing is nothing other than attempted murder for financial gain.. In the past several years we too have seen the unfortunate and tragic impact heroin and painkillers have on individuals and families. Prosecution of dealers could save lots of lives and create awareness to the issue.

  • Haven't prosecutors already been trying to achieve this? You're right, homosapien, this is a slippery slope.

    By this reasoning, Anheuser Busch needs to go ahead and set aside TRILLIONS for "wrongful death" and "ruined lives" since alcohol kills more people directly--but more INDIRECTLY--than anything sold on the streets. Maybe they can pay half of that to MADD and SADD and set aside the rest to await a class action from Kentuckians.

    Regarding drugs and addiction, our legisation and tax dollars are better spent on recovery, rehabilitation, and educational programs/centers.

  • H.S. everytime they get together with yet another great plan they instead make the situation worse. Look at how they attacked this two years ago and the deaths since then. Thats right, THEY MADE IT WORSE! The problem all along is they are not doctors and take it upon themselves fix a medical problem. They will never admit defeat and instead keep on making it worse. Once again, they get a part of it right and then add to it and defeat the purpose of it all and unless they follow your advice and just shoot them all dead then this problem will never be fixed. That is until they turn it over to the doctors like they should had all along..

  • "“The bill targets two different groups: the trafficker, who needs to be run out of Kentucky or locked up; and the addict, who has broken the law but has created their own personal prison of addiction that is worse than any jail this state could design and needs treatment,” the bill’s sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, said."

    Well, Katie, your profound ignorance of the basic tenets of drug addiction is astounding, as these "two different groups" are very often one in the same...the addict is the trafficker who is selling minute amounts to pay for his.  There are no drug kingpins around here that are the real traffickers.  It is all just so much War on Some Drugs That Aren't Alcohol and Tobacco.  They are all playing the same game, "Let's see who can be the toughest on the most vulnerable and ill among us"...what kind of so-called civilized society sics the police on their dregs and throws them into dungeons?  What kind of people are we to go along with this madness and inhumane behavior?  Why not just go ahead and kill them all right from the start?  Make it a death sentence to possess 4 grams of heroin!  And dispense with all of the kangeroo courts shenanagans, just line them up and shoot them.

  • "Traffickers could be charged with homicide in cases of overdose deaths, and the bill would require coroners to report overdoses caused by Schedule I drugs, such as heroin."

    Uhm, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug.  This is a very slippery slope that will not achieve the intended results.  

  • This is the dumbest freakin' thing that I have ever heard...