There are very few things that give rise to such unanimous sentiment from members of the General Assembly as the scourge of drugs in Kentucky. Whether prescription pill abuse, meth or other substances, each and every legislator will decry the toll on individuals, families, communities and our economy. It's often called a crisis.
But talk is cheap.
Two bills that held the promise of making some dent in that scourge have been all but gutted in this session.
One would have made it much more difficult for meth makers to get one of the essential ingredients for their toxic brew — pseudoephedrine. The other was aimed at pill mills and the doctors who prescribe painkillers like candy for ready cash.
Like Final Jeopardy, things can really change in the last hours of a legislative session so it's possible these bills could be resurrected to meaningful life, but it's not likely.
Senate Bill 3, started the session as a proposal to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, a tactic that has drastically reduced the number of meth labs in other states. It cuts back "smurfing," when meth cookers hire others to buy pseudoephedrine for them.
However, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a lobbying group that represents companies that make and sell pseudoephedrine, mounted an expensive and effective campaign to block the measure.
Sen. Robert Stivers, R.-Manchester, the bill's sponsor, smelled defeat in face of the $388,000 the CHPA spent lobbying in January and February, and offered a compromise that would allow individuals to buy 3.7 grams a month without a prescription, an amount that even the CHPA said would cover 85 percent of users.
What finally made it through was a bill that says you can buy 7.2 grams of pseudoephdrine in a month without a prescription. By way of reference, that's 30 days of treatment. Remarkably, the CHPA was still grumbling about that measure, even though it should keep their smurfing customers solidly employed.
The other bill, House Bill 4, began the session as a strong piece of legislation that would place restrictions on hack doctors who move into Kentucky to take jobs at "pain clinics" where pills are prescribed with little or no physical examination.
It also moved KASPER, a system for tracking prescriptions of powerful painkillers from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general's office. It also provided funding for the attorney general to operate the system and gave the AG the ability to track information about pain-pill prescribing, essential in identifying pill mills.
That version passed the House but what emerged from the Senate was a faint shadow of the original measure. The new, unimproved version returned regulation of physicians back to the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board, which has been ineffective, eliminated any funding for the AG to operate KASPER or have access to prescribing information.
There are legitimate concerns about affordable access to pseudoephedrine, a common treatment for the allergies that plague many Kentuckians. Some physicians worry law enforcement officers could become overzealous and punish doctors who are simply trying to help their patients deal with excruciating pain.
But certainly Stivers' compromise dealt with the former, and reasonable protections for legitimate physicians could have been hammered out while allowing Kentucky to keep pill peddlers out of this drug-beleaguered state.
Some say that simply passing these two bills is an accomplishment that opens the door to stronger legislation in the future, that someday we'll get the legislation we need.
That may all be true but it's no way to treat a crisis.