House heroin bill includes needle-exchange and three-tier penalty system

02/09/2015 05:52 PM

FRANKFORT — House Democrats unveiled on Monday legislation to combat heroin abuse in the state, including provisions for a tiered level of penalties for heroin traffickers and a local option needle-exchange program, something that many lawmakers objected to last session.

House Bill 213,sponsored by Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, calls for using money saved from 2011’s criminal justice reform to increase treatment programs in jails, community mental health centers and anti-drug efforts, similar to Senate Bill 5, sponsored this session by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill. More money would be set aside for social workers and babies born addicted, and addicts who are pregnant would receive priority in treatment programs.

Other similarities with the Senate bill include a Good Samaritan clause, so those who report overdoses would not face drug-related charges themselves, and authorizing the use of naloxone, which can reverse overdoses.

Under the bill, any person — including but not limited to first responders and other qualified agencies and educational institutions — would be permitted to have access to the medicine and would be shielded from potential problems if the naloxone is otherwise used correctly. Also, pharmacists are given the authority to prescribe the drug, further increasing the availability to families and loved ones of addicts.

One difference between the two bills is HB 213 has a three-tiered penalty system for traffickers as it treats peddlers who are selling the drug for their own habit differently than heavy traffickers.

Under the bill, those trafficking a kilo or more of heroin would face a Class B felony, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The current law would stay the same as those trafficking two grams or less face a Class D felony; and those trafficking two grams to a kilogram of heroin would face a Class C felony.

“There is clearly a difference with someone who is arrested for trafficking two grams or some small amount,” Tilley told reporters Monday.

Another difference is that HB 213 would allow a local option needle-exchange program that would not only potentially reduce illnesses like hepatitis, but also decrease the prevalence of dirty needles in public places and provide addicts information about treatment.

Tilley says the reason that he wants to include the needle-exchange option is because “it works.”

“Thirty one states across this country, including D.C. and Puerto Rico, are also using needle-exchange programs, and four states around us — Ohio, Missouri, Indiana and Illinois — all have working needle-exchange programs,” Tilley said. “Do they enable drug use? They do not. In fact, a participant in a needle-exchange program is five times more likely to enter into treatment.”

The bill number was chosen because it was the birthday of the nephew of Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, who died of a heroin overdose in 2013.

“I lost my nephew to a heroin overdose,” Jenkins said. “Wes would be 25 years old this Friday, Feb. 13.”

Tilley, who has worked on legislation reducing illegal drug use for the past six years, is confident that a bill will be passed this session.

“My confidence level is high that we can pass a bill from the House, and my confidence level is also high that cooler heads and rational heads who want to put to put policy over politics can come together and come out of a, what may be a conference committee ultimately and present the bill to both chambers,” Tilley said.

McDaniel expressed disappointment on the floor of the Senate that the House has chosen to file its own bill instead of taking up SB 5, which he says was formulated by working with Republicans and Democrats in both chambers, among others, and passed by the Senate the first week of the session.

“It was put together by working for six months to get consensus among former addicts, jailers, treatment professionals, parents who’ve lost children, EMTs, prosecutors, businesses and countless others,” McDaniel said. “We all know what it about to happen. The House is going to rush out a bill that no one’s seen and try to ram it down their members’ throats.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, doesn’t think a bill which includes a needle-exchange program would have a chance of passing the Senate.

“I think that would have a very difficult time in the Senate,” Stivers said.


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