Local/Regional News
3:35 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

Beshear Urges Passage of Anti-Drug Bill

FRANKFORT, Ky.  -- Governor Steve Beshear joined forces with a bipartisan group of Kentucky leaders Friday to push for passage of a bill intended to curb prescription drug abuse in a state where more people have been dying from overdoses than car wrecks.

Lawmakers have one last shot at passing the bill when they return to Frankfort next Thursday for the final day of the legislative session.

"Every day that we delay strengthening our response to prescription drug abuse is another opportunity for a Kentuckian to fall victim to this devastating scourge," Beshear said in a statement. "Our law enforcement officers, our medical licensure boards, and our communities are desperate for new tools to attack this epidemic."

Beshear's office distributed statements Thursday from a bipartisan group of Frankfort political leaders, including Republican Senate Floor Leader Robert Stivers, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. Two lawmakers championing the measure in the legislature, Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon and Democratic Rep. John Tilley, led the push.

The legislation would put the attorney general's office in charge of the state's prescription monitoring system that can identify doctors who overprescribe painkillers, which could give prosecutors fast access to information that could lead to arrests and prosecutions. The monitoring system is now operated by a state social services agency.

Kentucky has one of the nation's highest rates of prescription drug overdose deaths, and public opinion polls show that one in three Kentuckians has a relative or close friend who abuses prescription drugs.

"This legislation is an important step in our effort to fight a problem that kills more than 1,000 Kentuckians each year," Conway said in a statement. "I'm hopeful everyone, including the medical community, can get on board."

Stumbo said the legislation is crucial.

"Given the true epidemic we are seeing, we cannot afford to wait another year to try to pass this again," he said.

Under the legislation, all doctors would be required to use the prescription monitoring system, known as KASPER. It also would require that pain management clinics be owned by a physician licensed in Kentucky. That's an effort to root out "pill mills" run by operators who have little or no medical expertise but are doling out massive amounts of painkillers.

The legislation also would require medical licensure boards to open immediate investigations into complaints about overprescribing.

"The heartbreaking statistics speak for themselves," Stivers said in a statement. "The diversion of prescription drugs and illegal uses of prescription drugs are serious issues facing the commonwealth. This directly affects families, jobs, and the well-being of communities."