An opioid epidemic is sweeping across the nation, and Kentucky is one of the hardest hit states. The Bluegrass state has one of the highest death rates linked to drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heroin is taking its toll on Kentucky and engulfs Northern Kentucky, Louisville, and Lexington. The number of drug-overdose deaths in Kentucky has increased significantly over the past four years, causing an all-time high of 1,404 in 2016 (Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy).

To reverse the epidemic, Kentucky government officials recently developed a diverse approach. This approach includes stronger penalties for dealers and traffickers, and better treatment options for addicts seeking help. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin advocated for House Bill 33 and his goal is to decrease painkiller abuse throughout the state with the bill. By reducing painkiller addictions, the hope is to decrease heroin use.

People who have become addicted to prescription pain killers often gravitate to heroin, a less expensive and easier drug to access. In recent years, heroin has been found being laced a deadly and powerful synthetic drug called fentanyl. This potent opioid is often blended with heroin and other drugs. According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, fentanyl contributed to 623 deaths in 2016 and heroin contributed to 456 deaths across the state.

House Bill 333 is designed to reduce the amount of deaths in the state by prohibiting medical professionals from giving patients more than a three-day supply of painkillers. These painkillers include OxyContin, Dilaudid, and other narcotics to treat pain caused by surgery or a medical condition.

What about people who need painkillers for serious illnesses and diseases? While House Bill 333 may make it harder to obtain painkillers for long periods of time, clauses are allowing medical professionals to prescribe more than a three-day dose of painkillers. Doctors can modify the amount of painkillers as long as they provide a valid reason for doing so. Exceptions include prescribing to cancer patients, people diagnosed with chronic pain, and patients receiving end-of-life care.

The new law also provides funding for addiction treatments. The law will make naloxone more available. Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of heroin overdose. House Bill 333 also encourages people to call for help for an overdose victim and not be punished by the law under the “Good Samaritan” provision.

House Bill 333 enacts the following:

  1. Illegal to sell or distribute fentanyl or carfentanil. Sentence of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty and trafficking over certain quantities of the drug could mean a longer sentence.
  2. Importing heroin into Kentucky with the intent to distribute or sell is punishable up to 10 years in prison.
  3. Individuals caught trafficking drugs receive a Class C felony for a first offense.
  4. Individuals found selling between 2 grams and 100 grams of heroin will not be eligible for parole before serving time until at least half of the five to 10-year sentence. Individuals could face up to 20 years if found with more quantity.
  5. Fentanyl derivatives are in the same class of drugs including heroin and LSD.
  6. Felony offense for those trafficking and distributing carfentanil, fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives as actual pharmaceutical drugs.
  7. Limits doctors to prescribing a three-day dose of opioid painkillers for patients with minimal pain.

While it may mean taking a few extra trips to the pharmacy for people who are prescribed painkillers, the goal is to prevent extra opioid painkillers from entering the illegal drug market. With less painkiller addictions, the hope is that the number of drug-overdose deaths are significantly reduced.

For more info visit the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy