FRANKFORT — Two bills aimed at cracking down on Kentucky's drug problems won approval Wednesday from the House Judiciary Committee, their first stop in a lengthy legislative process.
The committee overwhelmingly approved House Bill 481 to combat a new crop of synthetic drugs sold in convenience stores and elsewhere as bath salts or incense. The measure's sponsor is committee chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville.
It also approved a proposal for new controls on pain clinics and to beef up the attorney general's power to police overprescribing of narcotics by health care providers. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, is the sponsor of House Bill 4.
Both measures now go to the full House.
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The committee's vote on the synthetic drugs bill came after Tilley showed a video of a young man high on synthetic drugs, known by such names as White Rhino, Marley and Hollywood.
Tulle said his bill would allow the state Office of Drug Control Policy to recommend which synthetic drugs should be banned and would increase penalties for retailers who sell the drugs.
First-time offenders could be sentenced to a year in jail and fined thousands of dollars. Retailers who sell the drugs could lose their property and licenses to sell alcohol.
Tilley said the Office of Drug Control Policy's oversight is needed to keep tabs on the ever-changing lineup of drugs, which makers now can tweak slightly to avoid existing laws.
Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said law enforcement's focus needed to be on the drugs' suppliers.
Stumbo called his bill to regulate pain management clinics "a work in progress" since last summer.
It requires clinics to be owned by a physician or an advanced-practice registered nurse. A pain clinic would be defined as any facility where the majority of patients are treated for pain with controlled substances. The definition would not include hospitals, educational programs, hospices or long-term care facilities.
All health care practitioners would have to use the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting, a statewide drug-monitoring system known as KASPER, before prescribing Schedule II or III narcotics.
The attorney general's office, not the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, would oversee KASPER. Stumbo said the move is needed to make the database a more effective law enforcement tool.
The attorney general would be able to charge a fee to health care providers to maintain and operate the monitoring system. Any law enforcement officer could access the system's records after certifying that he or she is part of a legitimate investigation.
Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Lebanon Republican, is working on a similar bill in the Senate.
Higdon said after the House committee vote Wednesday that he expects his proposal and Stumbo's bill to end up in the hands of a negotiating committee, made up of members from both chambers, during the final days of this year's legislative session.
Two key differences in his bill are that KASPER would stay with the state cabinet and investigations of excessive prescriptions would be left to the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure.