Heroin Bill Moves Swiftly Through Senate

Jan 16, 2014

A bill aimed at curbing the rise of heroin use in the state sailed through the Senate Thursday. 

The measure easily moved out of committee despite some concerns raised about its constitutionality.

If approved by the legislature, the heroin bill would stiffen penalties for major dealers, require Kentucky Medicaid to pay for substance-abuse treatment, and make Naloxone — a drug that used to treat overdoses — more widely available. Van Ingram, the Executive Director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, made the case that quick action is needed.

"Just two years ago in 2011, heroin was present in about three percent of our overdoses cases. Jump ahead to the first three quarters of 2013 and it's present in 26 percent of our overdose cases," Ingram told the committee.

But the element of the bill that establishes overdose deaths as a “foreseeable result” of using a Schedule I controlled substance such as heroin and makes it easier for prosecutors to pursue homicide charges against traffickers had some worrying aloud about constitutionality.

Ernie Lewis, the legislative agent for the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argued that the measure shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.

"What I think this bill is trying to do is create a shortcut for prosecutors. You don't have to prove foreseeability anymore. From what I've heard, foreseeability is a piece of cake to prosecute now, particularly in northern Kentucky because everybody knows [if] you take heroin you have a chance of dying," Lewis argued.

Senate President Robert Stivers said he believes the bill merely defines foreseeability.