Lawmakers to focus in 2014 on growing heroin problem as fatal overdoses mount

12/05/2013 10:36 AM

After focusing on trying to curb prescription pill abuse and methamphetamine over the last four years, Kentucky lawmakers will aim to tackle the commonwealth’s heroin problem, which is growing by the month.

Heroin overdoses accounted for 143 deaths in 2012. Through the first nine months of this year, at least 168 Kentuckians died of heroin overdoses, according to the most recent statistics from the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s autopsy cases. Of those deaths attributed to heroin, 153 were in Northern Kentucky and Louisville. Western Kentucky didn’t report a single case directly attributed to heroin.

Already Republican Sen. John Schickel of Union in Northern Kentucky has pre-filed a bill for the 2014 session to tighten penalties for those convicted of trafficking the drug.

Democratic Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, represents a northeast Kentucky district that sits between two pipelines of heroin flowing from Detroit – one that comes down I-75 through Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and another that has come through southern Ohio and Huntington West Virginia.

Webb said she had concerns with a proposal last year that would have allowed prosecutors to levy murder charges against a person found selling heroin to someone who fatally overdosed. (4:00 of the interview)

But she said lawmakers must balance “appropriate penalties” with “fiscal responsibility” and not overload Kentucky’s corrections system with low-level drug offenders. (5:00 of the interview).

Here’s what she told Pure Politics about the scourge of drugs in Kentucky and what lawmakers can do about it:

Webb, a lawyer from Grayson, also represents Danny Sparks, the former mayor of Olive Hill who pleaded guilty this week to drug trafficking. He was arrested in November 2012 after selling a small amount of marijuana to an acquaintance who turned out to be an undercover informant. The exchange went down in a parking lot that was close enough to an elementary school to bump the penalty up to a felony.

Webb had initially requested pretrial diversion for Sparks, which would allow the crime to be expunged after five years.

Webb explained why and answered questions about some of the other public policy questions related, including the balance between penalties and opportunities for redemption as well as the future of regulating marijuana in Kentucky:

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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