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KY State Rep. Addia Wuchner

Op-Ed: Kentucky’s Greatest Opioid Threat Now Comes From Illicit Sources

Kentucky, like most states in our region, is very familiar with the ongoing opioid epidemic. The issue fills our headlines and our cemeteries. We have witnessed too many lives lost, families devastated and communities eroded by this scourge. Speaking with  high school juniors,  I asked if they knew someone who has suffered from addiction or who’s life had been impacted by addiction…every hand went up! Many students had lost family members, friends and sadly for some, parents. 
 
If there is good news, the expanded availability of Naloxone - the overdose antidote - to first responders has helped prevent some tragedies.
 
When the opioid crisis first began, the initial outcry was “it all begins in the medicine cabinet.” At that time in Kentucky, we could point to prescription drugs as the main culprit in this scourge. We responded enacting new laws in the Commonwealth, which shut down pill mills, set responsible prescribing guidelines to limit the flow of prescriptions and health provider have modified their approaches and options to managing pain.
 
Yet, Kentuckians and Americans continue to die at an alarming rate from a newer menace, foreign-manufactured illicit opioids. Synthetic fentanyl and other deadly synthetic drugs.
 
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate similar to, but much more potent than morphine. The tiniest amount of illicit fentanyl is deadly. Only two milligrams - comparable to four grains of salt - can kill. Its chemical cousin, carfentanil, is even more deadly – just a single grain can kill. This lethality has resulted in many lost lives in the last couple of years.
 
These potentially deadly drugs pose a tremendous safety risk for our first responders and law enforcement. Our police and paramedics often carry NARCAN to save the lives of an addict, now they have found they need to carry it to administer it to their partner if there is an exposure to these drugs. It’s so bad we’re having to equip state troopers with full-body suits, respirator masks, fentanyl protective gloves, safety glasses.
 
Each legislative session we have brought forth legislation to combat the scourge of addiction. We have strengthened our trafficking penalties and expanded treatment resources.
 
We have made tremendous strides in public awareness and understanding of addiction. We continue to improve emergency respite and recovery programs and opportunities for individuals and families to take back their lives. We are finally witnessing lower overdoses and the deaths at the hand of prescription drugs, but we are behind the times on taking on foreign illicit drugs and those who push them in our communities.
 
The Drug Enforcement Administration and United Nations narcotics monitors have identified China as the primary source of most of the fentanyl in U.S. street drugs. Thanks to this investigation released in January, we now know the depths to which drug traffickers exploit our mail system to ship fentanyl and other synthetic drugs into the United States.
 
The cartels and criminals who import and distribute narcotics into our country are relentless in their quest for profits and power.  It is critical we step up our interdiction efforts and incorporate better tracking and technology to prevent illicit opioids, including methamphetamine, fentanyl and other illicit drugs from entering the country.  We must increase pressure on foreign powers to own this problem and cooperate with our authorities.
 
State Representative Addia Wuchner (R-Burlington) represents the Kentucky House District 66 and is chair of the House Health and Family Services Committee.