FRANKFORT (AP) — Gov. Matt Bevin urged lawmakers to take action to relieve Kentucky of its drug-addition problems Wednesday as a House panel advanced a measure aimed at creating tougher penalties for fentanyl dealers and stopping the overprescribing of powerful painkillers.
The legislation cleared the House Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. While endorsing the measure, Bevin said no amount of government money or rehabilitation programs will fix Kentucky’s drug woes until action is taken to reduce the state’s acute drug addiction rate.
“We’ve got to make it harder to get addicted,” he told the committee.
The committee’s action came a day after the state Senate passed its own bill that would create tougher penalties for people caught trafficking smaller amounts of heroin or fentanyl. That measure is headed to the House. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.
Kentucky is plagued by the nation’s third-highest death rate from opioid overdoses, said Republican Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, lead sponsor of the bill heard by the House committee.
“This is a public health crisis,” she said.
The bill emerging from the House panel would create stiffer penalties for people convicted of trafficking in any amount of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug. Current law allows lesser felony charges, with lighter penalties, for people convicted of trafficking less than 2 grams.
“We have people in this commonwealth who are actively marketing something that is the equivalent to shooting somebody,” said Republican Rep. Robert Benvenuti III.
“And we’ve got to have strict penalties for that. … And if it means longer terms of incarceration, there’s one way not to get into that situation — don’t traffic in this stuff.”
The bill would create a new crime of trafficking in a misrepresented controlled substance, a felony punishable by one to five years in prison. It’s aimed at drug dealers who sell fentanyl to buyers who think they’re getting less-potent painkillers, with sometimes deadly results.
Another key section of the bill deals with the prescription of powerful painkillers.
It would direct licensure boards overseeing doctors and others with prescriptive authority to write regulations setting guidelines to generally limit a patient’s supply of painkillers to three days.
There would be exemptions in cases of chronic pain, end-of-life and cancer care and if a provider believes there’s a “medical necessity” for a longer prescription.
Bevin touted efforts to make sure Kentuckians don’t get hooked on prescription painkillers.
“Why is it that we are taking something so highly addictive and sending it home in volumes that people can become addicted to?” the Republican governor said.
While supporting the bill, a couple of lawmakers worried about unintended consequences that could keep some people from getting the medication they need to treat acute pain.
“This is not telling providers that they can’t prescribe more than three days,” Moser replied. “This is meant to give the providers pause and talk about the appropriateness of that opioid prescription.”
The House legislation is HB333.