Andy Beshear: Lawmakers must pass anti-heroin law; Ky. families at risk

Andy Beshear is a Louisville attorney and candidate for Kentucky attorney general.
Andy Beshear is a Louisville attorney and candidate for Kentucky attorney general.

Heroin is pure death, and is rapidly spreading through the commonwealth.

It is among the most addictive drugs on Earth, and is devastating Kentucky families in all corners of our state, and in every walk of life. As certain abused prescription drugs have become harder or more expensive to obtain, heroin use has skyrocketed.

A year ago, when I began traveling the state as a candidate for attorney general, I felt the devastation of heroin whenever I visited Northern Kentucky. Today, I hear about it in every community I visit.

Every room of people that I meet includes parents, aunts and uncles, or friends who have lost loved ones to a heroin overdose. And the data show that we can only expect more. According to the most recent Overdose Fatality Report, in 2013, 31.9 percent of all overdose deaths came from heroin — a 60 percent increase in just one year. Put this statistic in the context that more Kentuckians now die from drug overdoses than car wrecks, and it becomes clear — heroin must be stopped now. Delay equals death.

Critical legislation died in the 2014 session for one reason: the few things state legislators disagreed on stopped them from passing the many important provisions they agreed on.

With the 2015 legislative session approaching, the answer is clear: Sit down before the session, identify what both chambers agree on and pass a bill with those provisions as quickly as possible. From my discussions with families, law enforcement, legislators and doctors, I believe there is agreement on these steps:

■ Passing a Good Samaritan law. Many overdose deaths could be prevented if other drug users could report overdoses without fear of arrest. More than 20 states have passed similar laws. Kentucky must join them.

■ Providing Naloxone to first responders. The drug can reverse an overdose if applied in time, can be an important and effective tool to prevent overdose deaths. We must expand its availability to first responders, as more than 24 other states have done.

Legislators also should find agreement on two other important tactics:

■ Increasing penalties. While sentencing-reduction laws may be appropriate for some drugs, they are wrong for heroin. Penalties for dealing heroin must be so severe that they dissuade a dealer from selling the drug, and they must ensure a significant portion of any sentence is actually served. Heroin dealers must know that selling any amount will result in a substantial incarceration.

■ Increasing access to comprehensive drug treatment. Heroin addiction is incredibly difficult to beat. While new laws require some drug treatment to be covered by health insurance, many treatments are too short and don't work for many addicts. We must make comprehensive treatment more accessible.

Heroin already has touched or will touch — and possibly take — the lives of your family, friends, or neighbors. I would know; it has in my neighborhood. When I moved to my house five years ago, the first person I met was a 12-year-old girl who immediately volunteered to babysit. In May, she told me she had, less than a year ago, lost her older brother, who died of an overdose the very first time he tried heroin. One bad choice on one bad night had robbed her family of their loved one.

We must do everything we can to ensure that young man, and the many other children and young adults we have lost, have not died in vain. We must use their stories to educate children and adults that taking heroin — even once — will wreck your life and devastate the lives of those around you.

What matters most is that the state act as quickly as possible. Please join me in urging our legislature to pass what they agree on quickly and fight about the rest later.

To those who have lost loved ones, to those fighting to save a loved one, and to those genuinely trying to break an addiction, I will stand with you in this fight.