Senate swiftly approves bill aimed at heroin treatment and punishing dealers

01/16/2014 12:43 PM

UPDATED: The state Senate on Thursday quickly moved through a committee and then the full chamber a sweeping bill to combat the growing heroin problem that has been particularly ravaging Northern Kentucky, Lexington and Louisville.

The measure, Senate Bill 5 , increases treatment option for addicts and increases the penalties for those found guilty of trafficking the highly addictive drug. The bill passed the Senate 36-0 Thursday afternoon less than three hours after it cleared the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 8-0. Democratic Sen. Perry Clark of Louisville voted to pass in both the committee and the floor votes.

Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, presented the bill along with law enforcement, judicial and health officials at the committee meeting.

Eric Specht, of Fort Thomas, offered the most emotional testimony as he outlined the scarcity of treatment beds and information for families whose loved ones are caught in the net of addiction.

Specht’s 30-year-old son, Nicholas, died of an overdose five months and eight days ago. Specht and his wife, Holly, got Nicholas into treatment at the Healing Place in Louisville more than a year ago. But Nicholas relapsed last summer.

The bill will make available Naloxone, an opioid developed in the 1960s to counter overdoses.

And the measure increases treatment options under Medicaid in Kentucky. The Affordable Care Act now requires all providers, including Medicaid, to cover drug treatment.

Ashel Kruetzkamp, emergency department nurse manager at St. Elizabeth’s in Fort Thomas, told the committee that could go a long way in preventing overdoses. Currently 65 percent of people who come to her ER for drug-related issues pay out of pocket and “can’t get the treatment needed without support from this bill and from the state of Kentucky.”

Those provisions in Senate Bill 5 won universal praise in Thursday’s hearing from experts and lawmakers alike. The most controversial portions of the bill, however, dealt with increasing penalties for heroin dealers. Those convicted of selling heroin to someone who fatally overdosed could be charged with homicide and have to serve at least half of their sentence.

Ernie Lewis, the lobbyist for the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, said he’s concerned that those provisions would make “prosecution easier” at the risk of jeopardizing the constitutionality of the law.

And Democratic Sen. Robin Webb, a defense attorney from Grayson, also expressed concern. But Sean Riley, deputy attorney general, said the law needs to be clarified after a 2000 Kentucky Supreme Court case, Lofthouse v. Commonwealth, which effectively muddied prosecutors’ ability to charge a drug dealer with reckless homicide.

The bill is scheduled to come for a floor vote on the Senate later Thursday afternoon.

(For more on the debate and what the bill will do, watch Pure Politics tonight at 7 p.m./6 Central on Time Warner Cable’s cn|2)

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