General Assembly’s failure to pass heroin bill incites wrath, calls for local action and a special session

In the final hours of the 2014 legislative session, the House failed to pass Senate Bill 5, which would have helped combat heroin abuse. Some heroin-recovery advocates and community leaders are outraged, and now people are searching for local solutions to the problem while waiting for the General Assembly to act.

Senate Bill 5 would have allowed prosecutors to charge drug traffickers with homicide if someone died from an overdose of drugs sold by a trafficker, and allocated savings from a 2011 prison reform to fund drug-treatment programs. It would have permitted first responders and addicts’ family members to give naloxone, a life-saving drug, to someone who overdosed. Amendments to the bill would have begun an program for addicts to exchange used needles for new ones, decreasing the prevalence of hepatitis C and HIV, and making Zohydro, a powerful painkiller, illegal—until it is changed into a tamper-resistant variety, Scott Wartman and Terry DeMio write for The Kentucky Enquirer.

“During a meeting in Campbell County Thursday night, many who are involved in heroin treatments predicted that a delay in passing the bill will result in more deaths and heartache throughout the commonwealth—and specifically in Northern Kentucky, which has been the most affected area by the deadly drug,” Don Weber reports for cn|2‘s “Pure Politics.” 

Charlotte Wethington, who works as a recovery advocate at the residential treatment center the Grateful Life Center, lost her son Chad 12 years ago because of an overdose. “I’ve been fighting this battle for well over a decade, and it is long overdue, past overdue, that we address the heroin epidemic,” Wethington said, Weber writes. Dr. Mike Kalfas, a Northern Kentucky physician who treats heroin addicts, says Senate Bill 5 could have stopped what he says might be HIV or Hepatitis C epidemics in the near future. “Everywhere else there’s been an IV drug problem, over time, the drug problem builds, then the Hepatitis C problem builds, and not far behind them is HIV,” he said.

Because the bill didn’t pass, communities are looking for local solutions, even if resources are limited. Dr. Bonnie Hedrick of the Northern Kentucky Agency for Drug Abuse reported that her organization is not only working on needle cleanup projects but also encouraging local doctors to prescribe the antidote to those who are addicted, Rae Hodge of The Associated Press reports. Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force director Bill Mark said that unless Gov. Steve Beshear calls the legislature into a special session to consider the bill, his organization has few tools to fight the state’s growing heroin problem.”

Beshear hasn’t decided whether to call a session. “He argued that every session produces worthy bills that die, and ‘it’s too early to determine if a special session on any topic is prudent or needed,'” Beshear said, Mike Wynn writes for The Courier-Journal. Republican Senate President Robert Stivers has urged Beshear to call a session. He said, “This isn’t political. This is about real people; this is about real problems; this is about real people losing their lives.”

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