FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Some states, including Kentucky, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what's happening in Kentucky
Legislation passed in Kentucky in prior years, known as the Pill Mill Bill, amounted to a crackdown on rehabilitation facilities found to be complicit in the state's prescription pill trafficking problem. Experts from around the state have testified to lawmakers that restricted access to the opiates has created a market for heroin.
Kentucky law enforcement officials maintain that the drug carves a path from Detroit to Cincinnati to northern Kentucky. From there, the drugs are distributed throughout the state.
Commonwealth Attorney General Jack Conway told the state House Judiciary Committee that heroin overdoses have increased 650 percent since last year, and more than 1500 heroin trafficking charges have been issued. Conway said that heroin-related deaths rose from 22 in 2011 to 143 in 2012.
In the first nine months of 2013, heroin deaths amounted to 36 percent of the state's 639 overdose deaths, according to Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.
"The increase in heroin abuse and trafficking in communities across Kentucky is devastating," said Ingram. "The Kentucky State Police crime lab has gone from processing 451 confiscated samples of heroin in 2011 to 2,382 samples during the first nine months of 2013."
Current treatment options for substance abuse in the state are limited. The state has about 2,400 beds in treatment facilities, which are mostly concentrated in Lexington and Louisville.
State Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, offered legislation addressing Kentucky's growing heroin problem, but which has been stalled in the final hours of the state's 2014 legislative session. Senate Bill 5 would create a three-pronged approach to the problem by combining stiffer penalties for traffickers, funding for treatment and rehabilitation centers, and a youth-focused education program.
The bill has encountered opposition from some members of the General Assembly who object to the bill's provision establishing a needle exchange program. Other legislation in Kentucky would allow first responders to carry and use the anti-overdose drug Naloxone.
Potential action on the legislation must be completed by April 15, the last day of Kentucky's legislative session.