Bill enacting harsher penalties for synthetic drug crimes clears judiciary panel

02/03/2016 07:12 PM

FRANKFORT — Trafficking in synthetic drugs like flakka would be guilty of a class D felony under legislation that unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 4, sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, would increase penalties against the possession and sale of designer drugs.

Possession of synthetic drugs would increase from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor on the first offense and a class D felony for subsequent violations under HB 4. Those caught trafficking synthetics more than once would face class C felonies, and the legislation allows traffickers to be charged if caught selling to minors.

Flakka, a crystal-like drug that is injected, smoked or snorted, causes euphoria, delirium and hallucinations. It’s also known as Alpha-PVP and “the devil’s drug.”

Lewis County Sheriff Johnny Bivens said much like the prescription drug epidemic that swept through Kentucky years ago, flakka traffickers recruit multiple people to help them attain the drug.

But rather than driving a caravan of people to Florida pain clinics, those selling flakka are looking for mailing addresses.

Bivens says much of the synthetic drug comes shipped from China.

“It’ll go to a motel or someone else’s address, but it is originating and coming from China in bulk, pounds, and then being distributed throughout, I think, southern Ohio,” Bivens said. “Huntington is the hub, but unfortunately some of our folks are going up there and, again, bringing it back by the pounds and distributing that.”

Bivens says his department is seeing street prices at around $200 to $400 per gram, higher than figures cited by national news outlets that report costs of about $5 dollars per hit and $150 dollars for more than 3 grams of the synthetic.

Jeremy Triplett, drug chemistry supervisor of the Kentucky State Police central crime lab, said flakka is far stronger that similar designer drugs like bath salts, which the General Assembly made illegal in 2012.

Those drugs were about four times more potent than tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, he said.

“Today we’re talking about synthetic drugs that have potencies on the order of 100 and 200 times to potency of THC,” Triplett said. “Flakka, as the sheriff mentioned, is an extremely potent drug — more potent than methamphetamine — and the Scripps Institute just published a study where it’s not only more potent than methamphetamine, it’s also vastly more addictive.”

House Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said a corrections impact statement on House Bill 4 showed the state could face significant costs at more than eight million dollars per year.

House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said that’s to be expected as the state continues to battle illegal drugs like prescription painkillers and heroin. He added that the amount listed as an impact on Kentucky’s correctional institutions only takes incarceration into account and not other court resolutions, like probation.

“I don’t really know if significant is the right terminology to be used for that,” said Adkins, D-Morehead. “All I know is we’re trying to give law enforcement and others the tools they need to try to address this problem to hopefully drive it down and get it out of our communities.”

HB 4 was added to the chamber’s consent calendar for action, meaning the legislation will not be debated and lawmakers will vote “yes” on the measure by marking their attendance that day, unless otherwise noted.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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