GRAYSON — Jessamine County Sheriff Kevin Corman can think of days when Nicholasville has averaged two to four drug overdoses in 24 hours. Much of the blame for that, he told state lawmakers last week, goes to heroin and the abuse of the pain killer fentanyl.
The combination of the two drugs can increase the potency of heroin by up to 50 times, according to drug enforcement agencies. Hundreds of overdoses in central and northern Kentucky in recent months have been attributed to the mixture. Nationwide, more than 29,000 people died from overdoes of heroin and painkillers including OxyContin, hydrocodone or fentanyl in 2014 alone.
And drug use is only part of the problem, Corman told the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary on Oct. 7 at Ashland Community and Technical College. The other part is drug trafficking which is extremely lucrative where drugs like fentanyl are involved. A small amount can bring big money on the streets, he explained.
“I read something the other day that you can take $10 of this fentanyl and make $5000 worth on the street,” said Corman.
Nodding in agreement next to Corman was Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear who was at the meeting with State Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, and Rep Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, to support a bill proposed by Rep. Meyer that would add fentanyl analogues, or knock-offs, not approved for human consumption to the list of highly-addictive Schedule I drugs under state law. Schedule I drugs, which include heroin and LSD, have no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S.
There are at least 800 known fentanyl analogues and could be 1,000 or more, according to committee testimony.
Calling the drug epidemic “Kentucky’s greatest threat in general,” Beshear covered highlights of the bill which would not only classify fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs but make trafficking in any amount of fentanyl or its analogues a Class C felony for the first offense and a Class B felony for the second or subsequent offense. The penalty would be pared down if the person had a “substance use disorder” at the time the offense was committed. Trafficking 10 grams of more of fentanyl, including fentanyl analogues, would be a Class B felony under the proposal.
Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, asked Beshear if substance use disorder as defined in the bill would require a diagnosis or just a court finding. Beshear said the determination would just take a court finding under current language, and Meyer said that could be spelled out in the bill.
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, was admittedly emotional when he spoke about the heroin epidemic and its impact on Boone County where he lives. He cast some of the blame on House Bill 463 passed by the 2011 Kentucky General Assembly. The bill, now law for over five years, reduced some drug penalties while moving defendants into drug treatment.
Schickel said Kentucky was below the national average for heroin overdoses in 2009-2010. After HB 463 was signed, he said, the state’s heroin overdoses spiked. He suggested the drug penalties amended by HB 463 be raised back to the level they were at before 2011.
From his perspective, Corman said the issue isn’t just about drug overdoses. It’s about an increase in crime overall which he linked to the drug culture.
“This is getting to the point that probably 90 percent of all crime is related to this problem,” said Corman. “You look at burglaries, thefts, robberies, a lot of your domestic violence… Somehow we have to put a lid on this and start winning,” he told the committee.
The committee also received testimony on a proposed Reentry Drug Supervision Pilot Program explained by Rep. Lewis Nicholls, D-Greenup, heard a presentation on an evidence-based drug recovery model from the organization Celebrating Families, and received an update on gross misdemeanors legislation pre-filed for the 2017 legislative session that is similar to a bill considered last session.