Calling Kentucky’s deadly drug epidemic “scary,” Attorney General Andy Beshear and two Democratic state lawmakers unveiled a plan Friday to increase penalties for dealers of emerging, more powerful drugs.
The proposal to be considered in next year’s state legislative session that begins in January would amend the state’s drug laws to create tougher penalties for dealers of fentanyl, carfentanil and other designer drugs. They emulate the highs of classic illicit substances with unpredictable effects.
The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Russ Meyer of Nicholasville and Dennis Keene of Wilder, was introduced Friday at a meeting in Grayson of the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary and at a news conference at Lexington’s Government Center with several area law-enforcement officials.
“In the past month, reports of heroin-related overdoes and deaths have skyrocketed as drugs become more potent,” Beshear said in Lexington.
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“Heroin is now often mixed with other very substances, like fentanyl, a drug 30 to 50 times as powerful as heroin, and carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.”
Beshear said his office will lend its support and resources to lawmakers like Meyer and Keene “to fight this growing scourge and to save our families.”
Under the proposed legislation, criminal penalties would be increased for trafficking of fentanyl, fentanyl derivatives and analogues — structurally similar chemical compounds. The increase would amend previous statutes treating these drugs the same as heroin.
There would be a new class definition for known fentanyl derivatives.
Beshear said there are potentially 830 analogues or chemically similar versions of fentanyl, but Kentucky so far has only seen about 30 of them.
Meyer said the new legislation is “aimed at newer drugs impacting our communities and other drugs that might come our way.”
Keene said there is “no tougher issue facing Kentucky right now than heroin and synthetic drugs like fentanyl. The epidemic is reaching into every neighborhood.”
Nicholasville Police Chief Barry Waldrop voiced support for the legislation, saying the work of law enforcement officials is being tied up “going from overdose to overdose.”
He said $10,000 worth of fentanyl will make dealers $500,000 on the street. “The problem is going to keep coming.”
Waldrop also said he did not think rehabilitation works unless the victim wants to be helped.
Beshear, a Democrat, said he considers the drug epidemic a health and criminal issue and that drug treatment is an important part in Kentucky’s fight against drug addiction.
He noted that his office this year worked with lawmakers to use $8 million from a lawsuit his office won against a drugmaker to fund 15 high-quality substance abuse treatment centers and organizations throughout the state.
Beshear, the state’s chief law enforcement official, said he would like to see the state legislature appropriate $100 million to $200 million in the next budget to help drug victims recover.
He added that it is important to spend money on the state’s financially-strapped pension systems but that issue has never killed anyone.
That appeared to be a slight jab at Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has made shoring up the state’s pension systems a priority in his administration. Beshear and Bevin have been intense political rivals in their first year in public office.