Heroin has had a resurgence in our nation and Kentucky is no exception. Especially hit hard have been Northern Kentucky, Louisville, and Lexington raising fears that a heroin scourge will soon ravage the entire Commonwealth.Heroin – known by the nicknames such as Black Tar, Big H. Dog, Horse, and Puppy Chow, is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. Heroin can be injected, smoked in a water pipe, inhaled as smoke through a straw, or snorted as powder through the nose.
Police in Louisville and the Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati said they began seeing more heroin as early as four years ago, but it was in the last 12 months that heroin had increased dramatically.
A key driver behind the uptick in heroin abuse was the reformulation of two widely abused prescription pain drugs, making them harder to crush and snort. Drug manufacturers reformulated OxyContin in 2010 and Opana in 2011.
A growing number of young people who began abusing expensive prescription drugs are switching to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to buy. The reason may come down to basic economics: illegally obtained prescription pain killers have become more expensive and harder to get, while the price and difficulty in obtaining heroin have decreased. An 80 mg OxyContin pill runs between $60 to $100 on the street. Heroin costs about $9 a dose. Even among heavy heroin abusers, a day’s worth of the drug is cheaper than a couple hits of Oxy.
To impact the problem, the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy will continue to work towards increased public education, increased access to treatment, enhanced penalties for major traffickers, and greater access to naloxone.
Attorney General Jack Conway and the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy have jointly released a public service announcement (PSA) to increase awareness of heroin abuse among young people and to warn their parents of the signs
Senate Bill 192 ~ ” The Heroin Bill”
The most talked-about issue of the General Assembly’s 2015 session was also a main focus of the late-night closing hours of the session as lawmakers struck an agreement on a comprehensive bill to battle the state’s heroin epidemic.
Heroin is devastating Kentucky families in a number of ways, and the legislation approved strikes back against the deadly drug on a number of fronts. The multi-prong approach includes stronger penalties for dealers and traffickers and better treatment options for addicts seeking help.
Lawmakers approved the legislation, Senate Bill 192, just hours before adjourning the 2015 session in the early morning of March 25. The bill was signed into law later that morning by Gov. Steve Beshear. Since the bill contained an emergency clause, it took effect as state law as soon as the governor signed it.
Under the new law, importing heroin into Kentucky with intent to distribute or sell is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Those convicted of selling between 2 grams and 100 grams of heroin will not be eligible for parole before serving at least half of their five to ten years sentences. Those caught selling even more would face sentences of up to 20 years.
The new law also recognizes the health crisis that heroin poses and provides new funds to make treatment more widely available to those seeking help. The state’s addiction treatment system will receive an immediate $10 million boost followed by $24 million annually.
Another newly established tool in the fight against the health problems associated with heroin will permit clean needle exchanges at health departments, if a local jurisdiction approves. Supporters say the needle exchange programs show success in curbing the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV infection from shared needles. The programs also bring addicts into health departments where they’ll be closer to the state’s network of care and more likely to seek help for their addictions.
SB 192 will increase the availability of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose if promptly administered. The bill also encourages people to call for help when overdose victims need it by including a “Good Samaritan” provision. That will shield people from prosecution when they seek help for someone who overdoses.