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Kentucky Lawmakers Argue Over the Specifics of Heroin Legislation

Senate President Robert Stivers, right
Senate President Robert Stivers, right

The state Senate's first public discussion of the House's heroin bill on Wednesday highlighted the differences between the two chambers as they seek to address a surge in addiction throughout Kentucky.

The House bill focuses on treatment and enforcement that distinguishes between peddlers, mid-level traffickers and aggravated traffickers.

The Senate version would punish all heroin traffickers with a Class C felony. During Wednesday morning's committee hearing, several senators took issue with the House’s three-tiered sentencing system. Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said that dealers already avoid carrying large amounts of heroin to steer clear of more severe penalties.

Stivers and state prosecutors who testified during the committee hearing said the House bill’s provision to charge those who sell a kilogram or more of heroin with a Class B felony was useless because major cases are typically picked up by the federal government.

Kentucky law currently charges a Class C felony for selling two grams or more of heroin and a Class D felony for less than two grams.

Senators also remained skeptical of the bill’s provision to allow local health districts to set up needle exchange program. Sen. Wil Schroder, a Republican from Wilder, said that needle exchanges would make it harder for law enforcement to identify drug paraphernalia.

But Van Ingram, the executive director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, argued that needle exchanges are an important first point of contact between addicts and those who can help them.

Ingram added: “It starts to get a public health connection with someone who has checked out of the public health system and say: ‘Here’s your clean needles, I noticed you’ve got an abscess on your arm, I can help you with that. If you’re concerned about Hepatitis C, we can get you tested. If you’re concerned about HIV we can get you tested. And if you get tired of living this way, come talk to me and we can talk about some treatment options for you.’”

Another difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill is how they try to regulate naloxone, a drug used to reverse heroin overdoses. The House version allows anyone to receive naloxone directly from a pharmacist without having to go through a physician; the Senate version would only make the drug more readily available to first responders.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a physician and Republican from Winchester, argued that the drug needs to be administered by qualified professionals.

“You’re going to get this in the hands of individuals who may be shooting up together and where one guy’s completely high and the other person’s unconscious, this individual’s worried and he’s going to try to give him medication when the other individual may not be in a clinical situation where he would require that,” Alvarado said.

A House committee has not yet publicly reviewed the Senate’s version of the legislation.