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Op-Ed: Harsher Sentences Needed for Heroin Traffickers

The recent headline “New Kentucky heroin law has made slow progress battling epidemic” left me wondering where these reporters live.

There has been no progress.

In fact, according to a recent an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, we are going backwards. There has been a 56.7 percent increase between 2014 and 2015 in heroin overdoses in Northern Kentucky. The problem is getting worse even though millions of dollars have been spent and a lot of rhetoric has been thrown about by politicians on how things are getting better.

As a retired law enforcement officer, who at one time worked undercover in the Northern Kentucky regional narcotics unit, the current heroin epidemic breaks my heart but it was totally unnecessary. The fact of the matter is, to a large degree, the laws we passed in Frankfort created the epidemic.

There was a lot of hoopla and backslapping that went on when we passed Senate Bill 192 last year. What was never mentioned was it failed to increase penalties for drug traffickers to where they were prior to the passage of House Bill 463 in 2011. The following year we passed House Bill 1, known as the pill mill bill, which created the perfect storm for our current tragedy. Well-meaning treatment advocates made the problem worse by excusing drug trafficking if the person is an addict.

SB 192 further enabled heroin users by creating loopholes in the trafficking laws that make dealers harder to prosecute. The tougher penalties that were in SB 192 were largely window dressing as any of the three Northern Kentucky commonwealth’s attorneys will tell you. That’s because traffickers don’t carry large enough amounts of heroin to be prosecuted as distributors under the current law. 

In addition to not holding traffickers accountable not one treatment bed has been added in Northern Kentucky as a result of SB 192. The sad truth is we have not had the courage to do what is necessary to save our young people.

I hear people say all the time that putting heroin dealers in jail will not solve the problem. They are wrong. When we had tough heroin trafficking laws prior to 2011 and before HB 463 was passed, we did not have this epidemic. That is only a short six years ago, folks. Look how things have changed. That is not to say self-destructive people will not turn to other forms of self-destructive behavior; however, heroin is uniquely lethal and must be placed in a special category. Unfortunately, we have enabled heroin use in many cases, tragically, all the way to our young peoples’ graves.

That is why, again this session, Northern Kentucky’s two other senators and I will sponsor legislation to put the penalties for trafficking heroin back to where they were prior to 2011 – only six years ago. Let’s hope that this time the legislature will have the courage to do what is right and end this terrible scourge.

Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) represents Boone County. He welcomes your concerns or comments toll free at 800-372-7181 or online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/Messages/S011.aspx. Twitter: @SenatorSchickel.