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We Have a Heroin Bill: Kentucky Lawmakers Pass Drug Legislation in Final Hours of Session

State lawmakers reached a compromise late Tuesday on anti-heroin legislation that supporters said balanced the need for tough penalties for traffickers with treatment options for addicts.

Governor Steve Beshear quickly signed the bill on Wednesday morning.

"Northern Kentucky has been hit harder than most any area across the nation from the impacts of heroin and I pray that this bill is another step forward to end the distribution of this drug in my home community and begin to save lives," said Senator Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill).

“The people of Kentucky fighting for public safety and people fighting … addiction have been crying for help,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. “This is the help they need.”

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 192, passed the state Senate by a 34-4 vote. Earlier in the day, the state House had passed SB 192 by a 100-0 vote. The governor has said he will sign legislation tomorrow. Because it contains an emergency clause, it will take effect immediately upon being signed.

Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, called SB 192 a “comprehensive piece of legislation that will save lives.”

He said the bill allows heroin users to exchange dirty needles for clean ones at the state’s regional health departments – but only if a local jurisdiction approves. Tilley said SB 192 also contains the so-called “Good Samaritan provision.”  It shields heroin addicts, if they provide their name and address, from being prosecuted if they report an overdose.

“It eliminates barriers to treatment, and it does so much more,” Tilley said.

SB 192 will immediately infuse Kentucky’s addiction treatment system with $10 million followed by $24 million annually from money saved from prior judicial reforms designed to reduce prison costs by providing lawbreakers with drug treatment, among other things.

It further provides for administration of naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of an overdose, by first responders. There is also money for Vivitrol, a drug to help narcotic dependents who have stopped taking narcotics to stay drug free. 

The tougher penalties in SB 192 are reserved for the “worst traffickers,” Tilley said.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said the legislation creates a new crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, of importing heroin into Kentucky with the intent to distribute or sell it.

He said SB 192 targets “dealers of death,” or people who distribute heroin.

Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, voted against SB 192. He said provisions, such as needle exchanges, just enable addicts.

“We have always had drugs around,” Hornback said. “We are going to continue to have drugs around. We are not going to eliminate heroin.

“A lot of my constituents are tired of paying for people’s bad decisions. That is what this does.”

Minority Floor Leader Sen. Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, defended SB 192.

“We look down our nose and want to criminalize everything,” he said. “Let me tell you something, if this needle exchange prevents one person from getting HIV or Hepatitis C, it is a well done effort. If it saves one life it is something we should be proud of.”