Politics

Doctors would only be able to prescribe three days’ worth of painkillers under a bill that passed out of a legislative committee on Wednesday.

The legislation would also increase penalties for trafficking fentanyl and other synthetic opioid drugs.

The bill comes as Louisville and other cities and counties around Kentucky are seeing surges in overdoses and deaths related to illicit drugs spiked with fentanyl and other synthetics.

Gov. Matt Bevin threw his support behind the legislation, saying he wants to enhance punishments against dealers of the synthetic drugs.

“We are going to crush that in Kentucky,” Bevin said. “We are going to make it more difficult to be such a person in this state than any state in the country.”

Bevin also said the state needs to step in and limit Schedule II pain pill prescriptions to a three-day supply.

“Why is it that we are taking something that is so highly addictive and sending it home in volumes that people can become addicted to?” Bevin asked during the committee hearing.

The legislation would create several exemptions in which doctors would be allowed to prescribe more than a three-day supply: if the drug is prescribed to treat chronic pain, cancer or end-of-life treatment.

An exemption could also be obtained if the state licensing board and Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy deem the prescription “medically necessary.”

Several lawmakers expressed concerns that the pain pill restrictions would prevent patients from accessing treatment.

“What do we say to some elderly patients who quite frankly can’t get up and go to the doctor every three days?” asked Rep. Stan Lee, a Republican from Lexington.

Rebecca Ballard DiLoreto of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said she is worried the prescription limit would create more illicit drug users.

“This three days and then you lose your access to that pain medication could turn you into the street addict, and then you become a client of a criminal defense attorney,” DiLoreto said.

The bill also would make it a Class C felony to sell or transfer any amount of fentanyl on a first offense and Class B felony for a second offense. It would be a Class B felony to traffic, sell or transfer at least 28 grams of fentanyl or at least 10 grams of fentanyl derivatives.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Democrat from Louisville, said she’s concerned such a law would put addicts needlessly behind bars.

“We worked very hard to make sure that we were not incarcerating addicts by crafting that language, and so I’m a little concerned. I do understand how very potent fentanyl is, so I’m a little uneasy with that,” Jenkins said.

Rep. Chad McCoy, a Republican from Bardstown, shared similar concerns.

“I just don’t want to see us go down a path where we’re not getting them treatment, instead we’re incarcerating them, which is what I thought we had a problem with,” McCoy said.

The bill would also create a crime for trafficking a “misrepresented controlled substance” — for example, fentanyl made to look like a prescription Percocet or Xanax pill.

The bill passed out of the committee unanimously, with Ashland Democratic Rep. Kevin Sinnette abstaining.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.