Much has been written about the compromise heroin legislation passed by the General Assembly during this year's session (SB192), but I wanted to highlight two parts of it in particular. But first, as a primer, the bill has a handful of goals. SB192 is intended to (1) strengthen penalties and sentences for those who traffic in heroin, (2) increase access to substance abuse care for those addicted to heroin, (3) increase access to naloxone, which blocks the receptors in the nervous system that are affected by heroin (stops an overdose), and (4) creates a good samaritan provision so that people who call for help aren't punished (lots of people have died from a heroin overdose because their friends feared calling law enforcement).
Now for the highlights! On the penalty front, we lengthened the amount of time traffickers have to remain in prison before becoming eligible for parole and we added the offense of importation. If you bring heroin into Kentucky with the intent to traffic then you've committed a Class C felony, punishable by 5-10 years in prison. Traffickers and importers both have a 50% parole eligibility, which means they'd have to serve a minimum of 50% of their sentence before being allowed to meet the parole board. According to Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney, Rob Sanders, the Kentucky State Police arrested someone for importing heroin into Kentucky within 48 hours of the bill being signed into law – so quickly they weren't sure which statute number to use on the arrest citation – they hadn't been assigned yet!
On the treatment front, we included bill language I've been trying to pass for 3 years, providing greater access to substance abuse care for pregnant women in hopes of preventing the occurrence of NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome, learn more here and here) in their children and further substance abuse by the mothers themselves. There are only three facilities that cater to this need in Kentucky. All three facilities are full and all three have a waiting list. The new law requires pregnant women be given priority at other facilities around the state.
But the new law also increases access to naloxone. The bill calls for getting naloxone kits into the hands of first responders and law enforcement, but also does something creative to expand access. The Kentucky Board of Pharmacy and the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure were tasked with collaborating to draft regulations that allow pharmacists some latitude in dispensing the kits without a script from the doctor each time. This partnership is exactly the kind of teamwork that delivers results, and, in this case, delivered an innovative approach to providing health care. The emergency regs (available for reading here and here, were filed last week). When Northern Kentucky was (and may still be) seeing dozens of heroin overdose deaths a month, I believe getting these kits in as many hands as possible is an important step in halting the death toll of Kentuckians.
As is the case with large legislative efforts, lots of hands were at work on this one. I'm proud to have been among those working to make a difference.