Heroin ‘epidemic’ could bring state legislators back to Frankfort

Road plan passes, but special session may not be off the table

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

The General Assembly passed the few remaining mandatory bills left standing before adjourning Tuesday, but inaction on legislation targeting the state’s growing heroin problem may draw lawmakers back to Frankfort.

Senate President Robert Stivers said he plans to meet with Gov. Steve Beshear today to discuss the lack of movement on Senate Bill 5, which would have added stiffer penalties to convicted heroin traffickers and allowed emergency responders to carry an anti-opiate drug used to treat heroin overdoses, among other things.

With the state nearing a heroin “epidemic,” Stivers said a special session would be appropriate to tackle the issue.

“When you think about the loss of life and then compound that with the loss of productivity, the heartache, the pain on individuals in and around Northern Kentucky — much less the entire state — yes I would think it would deserve a special session,” said Stivers, R-Manchester.

He added: “I think the commonwealth would think that if we came up here in five days and spent $300,000 to do something to stop or curb this problem, that would be money well spent.”

Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, had 15 minutes before the session’s midnight deadline to maneuver SB 5 through the House. He scrambled to call a floor amendment, then a House committee substitute, then SB 5 in its original form before the clock struck the end of the 2014 legislative session.

The heroin bill was one of the more complicated pieces of legislation this session, as the two chambers could not see eye-to-eye on the strict penalties and removing culpability of victims who die in heroin overdoses as part of a legal defense.

A 45-minute debate on an 11-page amendment concerning non-profits and limited-liability companies to a separate bill, Senate Bill 108, ate away much of the time available for SB 5.

House Republicans voiced concerns with passing an amendment that had not been thoroughly vetted in the legislative process, but Tilley, speaking for the amendment, tried to force a vote and move on to the heroin bill. That motion rankled the chamber’s GOP, who seemed to take nearly every second of the three minutes available for lawmakers to explain votes.

“Any other time, that bill would have an extensive hearing in (the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee),” House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hover said in a floor speech.

 House Speaker Greg Stumbo, though, said he believed representatives against SB 5, sponsored by Republican Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine of Southgate, saw an opportunity with about an hour left in the session.

“I think that it was obvious that the opponents of Senate Bill 5 were using the clock and the floor amendment to Senate Bill 108 to their advantage,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “… They were cognizant of the time, and they were cognizant of the rules.”

Attorney General Jack Conway, who worked with Stine and Tilley on the legislation, said he was disappointed in the heroin bill’s fate.

“We must act to confront the reality of a growing heroin epidemic in our state,” Conway said in a statement. “Lives are at stake, and this legislation would have given law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to help address this issue.  

“We must refocus our efforts to pass this legislation and expand treatment for opiate addiction to address the abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin.”

Road bills pass

Two of the largest issues left outstanding Tuesday were the fate of the state road plan and the Transportation Cabinet budget. Leaders in both sessions sounded pessimistic of resolutions Monday —Stumbo alluded to the possibility of a special session while Stivers said lawmakers could simply pass a continuation budget and settle the matters next year.

But by early Tuesday afternoon, conferees on the road plan reached an agreement. The Transportation Cabinet’s budget soon followed. The state’s biennial highway construction plan includes funding for major projects like expanding the Mountain Parkway, building an interchange at Interstate 64 as part of an agreement to bring Toyota-produced Lexus cars to the automaker’s Georgetown plant, and moving the Brent Spence Bridge project forward.

“Our state’s economy depends on a reliable, safe and well-maintained transportation network, and the timely passage of these bills is good news for our workers, businesses and taxpayers,” Beshear said in a statement.

Franklin County fared well in the final version of the two-year highway construction plan. A $5.7 million renovation of East Main Street from Kentucky State University’s campus to Schenkel Lane, a $2 million pedestrian bridge across East Main on KSU’s campus and $43,000 to improve traffic flow in downtown Frankfort made the final cut for state projects. 

Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said he was “very concerned” with the status of the East Main improvements and pedestrian bridge in the compromise bill, so he wrote a memo to Sen. Ernie Harris, a Prospect Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, outlining East Main as his top priority.

“The bridge is needed, there’s no question about that for students crossing that dangerous street,” Carroll said, “but with the improvement of East Main, that will then allow us to get the improvements as well as build the bridge.”

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  • Bodeen, our government treats the mentially ill by sending them to prison.  What kind of society does this to their mentally ill?  What kind of people are we for allowing it?

    We already live in a state full of druggies with 16.2 prescriptions for every man woman and child!  Now since I don't take but one prescription med, that means someone else is getting mine to keep the per capita rate at 16.2.  And that does not begin to take into account all of those addicted to caffeine, sugar, cholesterol (a steroid), tobacco and alcohol.  If the government cannot eve keep drugs out f the most secure environment that we can devise, that being prison, who the heck are we supposed to stop it out here in our free society?  I for one do not want to trade my liberty for false security...just ask Ben Franklin,  “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.

    Are we really that stupid?

  • user_33018, April 16, 2014 3:40PM

    "How about you come back FREE OF CHARGE!!!  I think spending money for a special sesion is ridiculous."

    You are right on...they get a pay bonus for their incompetence that they dial up themselves.

  • I agree with this Bruno but at the same time, folks will blast us as being drug users ourselves who are scared of getting caught. LOL, I am a drug user and have been for 28 years but I can get my killer at any local corner market without a worry in the world of being arrested. As long as the man gets his through taxes then they do not care that what I am doing is dangerous. People for the most part bought into the hype that our government started for their reasoning to send armed to the hilt para-military style officers kicking in the doors of marijuana smokers to raid them of their property, liberty and life. It is wrong to keep this up as is and I would love to see addicts get the help they need. They will never get that help cause people are simply to uncaring and hard on people with mental problems. Police across the nation has shot people who suffers dead that wasn't a threat.

    Police are trained as soldiers anymore and the people that they are suppose to protect are enemies and they need to be ready to stop any threat no matter how imaginable they are.  The last thing I want is a town full of druggies walking around and the way we are fighting this guarantees that that is the way it will be unless we get serious and get these addicts the help they need. People will worry about who will have to pay for it and fear that they will but have no clue how much money they are paying now to fight and incarcerate. They bought into the hype and are scared to try anything else but as is. Folks, do not be scared to demand that we try something different that stands a better chance of working. Believe me whan I tell you that a lot of families, including my own, has suffered and want real help that is affordable and possible. My family managed to get one help and she is doing great but we have another member who will be back in prison before long because thats the help that the public wants to keep on doing. All it does is suspends his use while he is in (he claims he got drugs while in prison) Lets get our jails back to housing dangerous criminals instead of probating them because of no room due to drug users taking up the space because they don't use the legal drugs like I do.

  • How about you come back FREE OF CHARGE!!!  I think spending money for a special sesion is ridiculous.  If you were in school, you would recieve a failing grade for not completing your project on time.  How come every year it's the same thing, nothing ever gets finished in time.

  • What a farce...to call back the Legislature to address this non-issue is such a waste of the publics resources...to the tune of $70,000 a DAY!!!

    This really can be laid at the feet of the news media that sells itself with sensationalism.  The media prides itself on having fired every single investigative reporter (capable of asking a question and a follow-up) and is the cheerleaders for the police as they use scare tactics like this to further erode our Bill of Rights and find a new source for grants since they see the lynchpin of their dirty little Drug War losing marijuana, which has been their golden egg for decades.

     I have watched this story build with packaged messaging from the DEA and local police, and I am here to tell you that I never thought that I would see such sloppy reporting.  All of those empty stats based on little more than hard opinion (like percent of increase without giving the actual numbers) offers no perspective to the viewer to actually assess the problem.  This is the stuff of scare tactics and therefore, not worthy of printing! 

    Regarding this iteration of the government's periodic pants-on-fire "recent scourge" of heroin addiction in this state, I call bullhockey! When government and their journalistic lackeys start loosely throwing around terms like "scourge" and "epidemic" when there is no widespread incidence, it is totally irresponsible.  It is designed to create fear, and thus tolerance and apathy as we gradually slip into a police state.

    The War on Some Drugs Other Than Alcohol and Tobacco is a failure on several levels, but there is no data to support that heroin use should be a major concern, relatively speaking.  That is just so much of Drug War hype.  As a result of this hype, there are actually otherwise intelligent people who watch/read about these scare stories and believe that a "new heroin epidemic" is taking over our country, when in actuality it is the same tiny group (10ths of 1%) of social misfits and sick people with pre-existing depression that have always been here.  Every time that the government launches one of these epidemic stories (like the Crack Baby story or Meth epidemic) not only does it turn out that it was a lot of hype, but we also lose more privacy rights of the 4th Amendment.  Once they are gone, they are GONE!

    What is "new" is the very expensive police's zero tolerance drug policy and their point of emphasis to catch all of those who choose to use this drug instead of alcohol...and it is working.  They are going through this small group of heroin users by getting those who are caught 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.  The authorities have been sounding the alarm about heroin since the Nixon Administration, and there still are far less than 1% (667,000 according to your stats) of our population using it.  Where is the relative threat?

    The fact is that there are no "bad" drugs or good drugs, as drugs, like food, are neutral. There are no "addictive" drugs (or foods), there are just people with emotional problems who are self-medicating, most of whom are clinically depressed.  In fact, folks get "addicted" to things where there are no externally induced chemicals involved at all...like gambling or sex.

    There are differences in toxicity of drugs, so the side effects do vary with some being much harder on the body. Alcohol and tobacco are particularly damaging to the body since they cause a breakdown at the cellular level. However, our drug laws are not based on relative toxicity and disease, but rather on myth and political "realities", or else both alcohol and tobacco would have been banned long ago.

    The fact is that MOST people who use these same "addictive" drugs recreationally NEVER develop an unhealthy relationship with them. It is one thing to use a drug (like taking a little vacation) and totally another to abuse a drug (living there full time). The difference is the presence of emotional problems of the user, not the "addictive" properties of the substance.

    The drug war is based on myths like these as the media has parroted, where perfectly 'normal' and innocent folks come into contact with the "evil" substance and slide down this slippery slope into addiction. This myth takes the emotional state and personal responsibility completely out of the equation and is perpetuated by ignorant politicians, cops and practitioners alike.  This profound logical error by those who obviously have no personal experience with the effects of the substances in question, explains why the success rates of traditional threapy programs (like the 12 step) are so dismal.

    It is just so much easier and simpler to blame an addiction on a substance than to deal with the psychological reasons that the addict is self-medicating with it.  Drug abuse is always a medical problem and never a legal one. The legal system is just the wrong tool for the job.

    I have studied the the phenomena of altered states of human consciousness all of my life.  If we carefully examine our own experiences, we can tell that we are born with the drive to experiment with ways of changing consciousness.  Psychoactive drugs are but one of many possible techniques, each having their own risks and limitations.  The research supports this hypothesis that it is normal to seek changes in consciousness has never been discredited.  The literature argues that "high" states originate in the central nervous system rather than in any external substances, as research on endorphins (morphine like molecules made in every human brain) and other neurochemicals strongly support this theory.  One of the principles of the drug problem has been in the failure of society to provide for that basic human need except currently with alcohol and nicotine.

    I am certainly not trying to downplay the very real problems that a very small percentage of folks have with illicit drugs, but rather I am merely saying that with our present policies, the cure is worse than the disease.  But given that we have limited resources to combat health issues, it would seem that we should be making the two government approved drugs, alcohol and tobacco, our major concern as their impacts dwarf all illicit drugs combined.
    The discussion on drugs and drug policies is always overly emotionally charged, with the intellectual level uniformly low.  This is true regardless of whether the participants are medical practitioners (shrinks), addicts, students or cops (including prosecutors).  I have waited for decades for the discussion to get around to the real issues but it never has and looks like it never will.  That is because we have turned it all over to the police to resolve...and they are the wrong tool for the job.

    Looking at the health data comparing heroin and alcohol and the list of short and long term illnesses caused by each, it is really no contest...just check the NIH data.  Heroin effects far less than 1% of our population.   According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 620,000 Americans used heroin in 2010...in a country of 320,000,000.  And that is an epidemic?  Preposterous!  

    Fifty percent of the adults in America are current regular drinkers, 39% of the kids ages 12-17 have had at least one drink in their lifetimes and 63% of full time college students reportedly used alcohol in the past month.  According to the CDC, there are approximately 79,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation. In the single year 2005, there were more than 1.6 million hospitalizations and more than 4 million emergency room visits for alcohol-related conditions.  And this doesn't even account for all of the deaths from auto accidents and alcohol related violent crime.  And tobacco kills 440,000 people a year!  So, why again should heroin use be a top concern?  We are gagging on the gnat and swallowing the camel.

    We simply must suspend our value judgments about kinds of drugs and admit (however painful it might be) that a glass of beer on a hot afternoon and the bottle of wine with a fine meal are no different in kind from the joint of marijuana or snort of cocaine; nor is the evening devoted to cocktails essentially different from one devoted to heroin.  All are examples of the same phenomenon: the use of chemical agents to induce alterations in consciousness.  Your value judgments are of no value in determining what is going on in America.  We are spending far too much time, energy and MONEY on trying to find out why people take drugs, but in fact, what we are doing is trying to find out why some people are taking some drugs that we disapprove of.  No useful answers can come out of that sort of inquiry as the question is improperly phrased."