Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 16, 2014

Heroin bill zooms through Senate

FRANKFORT — When 30-year-old Nick Specht of Ft. Thomas became one of the growing number of northern Kentuckians hooked on heroin he appealed to his parents, Eric and Holly Specht for help.

His parents tried, and eventually found a treatment bed in Louisville, shocked to learn there were no available beds in northern Kentucky where the incidence of heroin addiction, arrests and overdose deaths has spiked.

“When your son comes to you and says, I need help, but you can’t find any help,” Eric Specht explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, his voice faltering and trailing off.

“We eventually got him a bed in Louisville, but he relapsed,” said the elder Specht, who was testifying in support of Senate Bill 5 sponsored by Sen. Katie Kratz Stine, R-Southgate, which would crack down on heroin traffickers and increase treatment options for addicts.

Her bill would also increase the availability of Naloxone, an anti-dote for overdoses, and encourage first responders to have it on hand.

Eventually Eric Specht discovered Nick in the bathroom at their home, having overdosed. Paramedics arrived before Nick’s expiration but were unable to revive him. Specht said Thursday if the drug had been available, “my son might be here today.”

There was little opposition to the bill in the committee and none later Thursday when the measure passed the full Senate 36-0. One senator passed.

Ernie Lewis of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said his membership supports most of the bill but has constitutional reservations about a section which would make the seller of heroin, or other Schedule I drugs, responsible for the death of a user to whom they’d sold the drug.

Lewis said that might run into constitutional problems because it denies a defense to the accused and because the typical addict often uses a “cocktail” of drugs, making it difficult to pinpoint which drug was the actual cause of death. Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a defense attorney, shared some of Lewis’ concerns but reluctantly voted for the bill on the Senate floor.

Stine and Deputy Attorney General Sean Riley said they believe the measure will pass constitutional muster.

Stine had proposed the measure last year in response to the growing problem of heroin in her northern Kentucky region. Traffickers from Cincinnati and other metropolitan areas often come to northern Kentucky to sell the drug and many former prescription pain pill addicts have turned to the drug after the state cracked down on pain medications.

Stine’s bill would dedicate money saved from a corrections reform measure passed two years ago to substance abuse recovery programs and require Medicaid to cover addiction treatment options – something also now required by the federal Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

 Stine said on the Senate floor her bill is a response to the dramatic increase in heroin trafficking, abuse and overdose in northern Kentucky where the number of deaths attributed to heroin over dose rose from 22 in 2011 to 143 in 2012. She said the bill takes a “three-pronged approach of education, intervention and interdiction.”

 Under the bill, traffickers convicted of selling more than two grams of heroin or methamphetamine would be required to serve at least half of their sentence before becoming eligible for probation. “Good Samaritans” could report over dose victims needing help without fear of prosecution and addicts who agree to undergo treatment could avoid prosecution.

 The bill now goes to the House.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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