While there have been wide-ranging opinions about heroin legislation this session, there is one point on which we all agree. The Kentucky General Assembly must pass a bill that slows and eventually stops the scourge of this insidious drug on our commonwealth.
As a retired Louisville Police sergeant, chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary, and a member of the House working group on the heroin issue, I believe House Bill 213 provides the best vehicle for that outcome.
I am not alone in this opinion.
Members of law enforcement, the medical community, the Justice Cabinet, community stakeholders, mental health representatives and current and former heroin addicts and their families agree that the policies in HB 213 will significantly stem the tide of heroin trafficking while addressing widespread opiate addiction.
As a law enforcement officer, I know firsthand that addiction is a disease, a public health issue. If we don't treat the addiction, no amount of incarceration is going to cure the heroin epidemic. That is why HB 213 prioritizes treatment while punishing those who would sell misery and death for their own financial gain.
Those who traffic larger quantities of heroin will receive stiffer penalties. The bill maintains the current lower penalties for those who sell or transfer smaller amounts of heroin, which in many cases is only to finance their own addiction. HB 213 makes treatment more readily available by increasing funding for mental health facilities where individuals can receive medication and counseling to help overcome their addictive disease.
Naloxone is a medication that counteracts a heroin overdose, and making it available to families of addicts and first responders is a proven lifesaving medical strategy. HB 213 ensures this expanded access.
A heartbreaking fact in the heroin epidemic is the birth of infants who suffer neonatal abstinence syndrome, a horrible form of withdrawal, because of their mothers' addiction. In 2000, Kentucky hospitals reported that 28 babies were born withdrawing from drugs; in 2013, 955 cases were reported. That is a staggering 3,310 percent increase. HB 213 gives priority treatment to mothers and babies in these circumstances, improving survival rates and long-term outcomes.
Allowing local option needle exchange programs will dramatically reduce cases of blood-borne illnesses such as hepatitis C and HIV currently causing a public health crisis. Needle exchange programs will also drastically reduce the number of dirty needles discarded in our communities. These programs will also be a first line of intervention, as people who use these programs are five times more likely to enter treatment.
HB 213 includes all of these critical pieces that together make up a comprehensive blueprint for tackling Kentucky's heroin problem.
In giving our bill the number 213 we acknowledge and commemorate the birthday — Feb. 13 — of Rep. Joni Jenkins' nephew, Wesley, who tragically died of a heroin overdose two years ago.
The passage of HB 213 would honor Wesley and the thousands of Kentuckians who have died of heroin overdoses as well as the devastated families they left behind. Just as important, HB 213 would redefine how we help those suffering in the seemingly insurmountable throes of opiate addiction through treatment, compassion and common sense.