FRANKFORT — An anti-heroin bill sailed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on just the second day of Kentucky’s 2015 legislative session.
The legislation, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, would stiffen penalties for users and institute mandatory minimum sentencing, while providing funding for addiction treatment programs in Kentucky prisons.
McDaniel, from Taylor Mill, said his bill focuses on cracking down on people who traffic heroin into Kentucky from other states.
“Distribution has become a major issue for our citizens, our employers and most importantly our families,” he said. “We frequently cite the fact that heroin-related overdoses have more than tripled in the past three years. What we don’t talk about is the unspoken path of additional destruction.”
Alex Elswick, a former heroin addict, testified in support of the bill, detailing his grueling journey out of addiction.
“I spent time homeless in Nashville and Cincinnati, in Dayton and Lexington,” Elswick said. “And I spent the very last days of my addiction sleeping on a tarp, and shooting heroin under highway 35 in Dayton, Ohio. When I was finally beaten into submission, and when I was finally ready to beg for any sort of treatment, I want you to know what was available to me.
“After counseling, after consulting with a primary care physician, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and even an addiction specialist, no one could refer me to the help I needed.”
Ernie Lewis of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys testified against the bill. While the group agrees with many provisions of the bill, it takes issue with a clause Lewis said discourages bystanders from calling the hospital for an overdosed person.
“So a person will believe that when they report an overdose they’re not going to be prosecuted,” Lewis said.
“They’re soon going to find out that deferred prosecution is not available. If that communication goes out to the street, this particular provision will not be effective. Deferred prosecution, as it is now, is an empty promise.”
The bill is now in the hands off the full Senate. Senate President Robert Stivers said it could pass within a week.