An opioid overdose could result in a loss of driving privileges in Kentucky.
Sen. John Schickel, a Boone County Republican, introduced Senate Bill 123 on Tuesday. The bill would require a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a paramedic or an emergency medical technician to report opioid overdose patients to the commissioner of the Department of Vehicle Regulation in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
The cabinet would then notify the overdose patient that his or her license was suspended.
Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken supports the proposed legislation. “I think any bill that helps keep the public safe on the roadway should be supported,” Milliken said. Her office prosecutes people who are arrested on driving under the influence charges.
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“In Warren County, we haven’t really seen this a lot, but in ... Louisville, Lexington and Covington, they have seen lots of individuals who are driving after an opioid use. They are going to their drug dealers, getting their opioids and immediately ingesting them and driving,” Milliken said.
“There have been several cases where people have been passed out at stop signs with their foot merely on the brake,” Milliken said. “We prosecuted those cases under the DUI statute.”
In one instance late last year, a person in a fast-food drive through passed out behind the wheel and later told police he had used heroin, Bowling Green police officer Ronnie Ward said.
“Anytime you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, you are in control of a deadly weapon,” Milliken said. “And it is paramount to public safety that we do everything we can to keep individuals who are under the influence off of the roadways.”
In Northern Kentucky communities in Schickel’s district, heroin and fentanyl — both highly addictive opioids — hit hard, taxing law enforcement, medical and judicial resources. The abuse of those drugs and other opioids have ravaged entire communities, resulting in scores of deaths.
Here’s how the law would work if it is passed in its current form:
If a person overdoses on opioids, the treating medical professional would be required by law to report it to the transportation cabinet, much like doctors are required to report epileptic patients after a seizure.
The overdose patient would receive a letter in the mail notifying him or her that the state has suspended driving privileges. That person then would have 20 days to request a hearing.
If no hearing is requested in that time, the right to the hearing would be waived and driving privileges could not be restored until a medical professional certifies that the overdose patient has been free of opioid use for at least 90 days or that the person’s opioid use is controlled by medication.
“I think especially in Louisville and Northern Kentucky, the epidemic of opioid overdoses has been to such an extent that this measure would be a good step in trying to ensure public safety,” Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said. “Because so many times, individuals are operating a motor vehicle when they obtain illegal drugs and will almost immediately use them, it puts all lives on the road in danger.”
Bowling Green Fraternal Order of Police president Shawn Helbig supports the bill in its current form.
“A driver’s license is not a right,” Helbig said. “It’s a privilege. When you’ve shown that you’re making poor judgment while operating a vehicle, you must be held accountable for that action, and this seems like a good start in correcting those poor decisions.”