A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand June 20, 2016

FRANKFORT – It has often been said that the war against illegal drugs is an ever-changing battlefield. When we seem to be making headway on one front, another tragically opens up.
Over the past dozen years, those “fronts” in Kentucky have ranged from meth and synthetic drugs to prescription pain medicine and heroin.
According to the annual report the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy released last week, a new name has been added to that list: fentanyl.
This synthetic cousin to heroin is often prescribed to help patients in severe pain near the end of their lives. Drug cartels are often mixing it with heroin, however, because it is as much as 50 times more potent.
Heroin users are paying a steep price because they are often unaware that they are using something so strong. As a result, statistics show fentanyl was a factor in 420 fatal overdoses in 2015, up from 121 in 2014.
Both Ohio and Kentucky are seeing a major uptick in heroin overdoses. A University of Cincinnati study found that one in five of that state’s residents knows of someone struggling with this drug, while a separate survey found that the rate was one in four in Northern Kentucky.
That’s an underlying reason why Florence’s EMS recently said it responded to more suspected heroin overdoses last year than heart attacks. AAA, meanwhile, says tri-state residents in the Cincinnati area now fear drugged driving more than drunk driving.
Kentucky has taken several major steps over the years to bring down all of the deadly numbers associated with illegal drug use.
A little more than a decade ago, we were the first state in the nation to put prescription-drug monitoring online, enabling prescribers and law enforcement alike to better track abuse more quickly. We then boosted that tool in 2012 to counter a wave of prescription-drug abuse, a move that the University of Kentucky said cut doctor-shopping in half and all but stopped the fly-by-night pain clinics known as “pill mills.”
Last year, we enacted a multi-pronged law focused on heroin. This measure significantly stiffened penalties for traffickers and provided $10 million in new funding for an array of initiatives, which will get $32 million more over the next two fiscal years.
That money is expanding substance-abuse programs in our correctional systems and community health centers. It is helping transition addicted newborns back home, and it is increasing use of Vivitrol, which can keep heroin addicts clean by blocking the drug’s effect. Social workers are also receiving more money to expand successful alternative-sentencing programs.
Last year’s law broadened the use of Naloxone, which can reverse heroin overdoses, and it gave local communities authority to create needle-exchange programs to reduce the prevalence of dirty needles and to slow the rate of such blood-borne diseases as HIV and Hepatitis C. Nearly 40 other states offer similar exchanges.
This year, the General Assembly passed a law targeting a second wave of much stronger synthetic drugs. Now, those convicted of either possessing or selling them will face much longer sentences.
The upcoming budget also lays out a spending plan for a recent court settlement with a major drug manufacturer, enabling us to appropriate hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece to an array of drug-treatment programs across the commonwealth.
All of these actions are providing a coordinated front as we try to turn the tide against the illegal drug epidemic, but this is not something that can be accomplished by a single law or level of government. It will take continued vigilance in both treatment and law enforcement, education and cooperation across agencies to maintain the gains we have made – and to make sure we’re ready if another “front” opens up, something we all hope never occurs.
If you would like to let me know your thoughts on this matter, please contact me at my legislative address, which is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer