Bill takes aim to help heroin addicts, families

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By Bryan Marshall

Family members soon could help stop an overdose of a loved one addicted to heroin and painkillers.
Gov. Steve Beshear is expected to sign House Bill 366 into law, which will allow physicians to prescribe a nasal version of Narcan to the public so they can administer the drug to opiate overdose patients.

Narcan blocks receptors in opiates in heroin and prescription pain pills and helps to reverse the effects of the drug.
The bill was passed in the recent 2013 General Assembly and was supported by both Sen. Damon Thayer, R, Georgetown, and Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge.

“It will serve as a life-saving drug that can keep somebody alive,” Thayer said. “There was broad support for it.”
Dry Ridge Fire Department Assistant Chief Joe Jamison said the positive impact of third parties having the ability to administer Narcan are undeniable, but there also could be some drawbacks.
“I think family members being able to administer Narcan is going to be able to save lives,” he said. “I think we’ll see a decrease in the prolonged time that people are going without having intervention. But, I think family members need to understand that if they’re giving the Narcan, they still need to get these patients in for intervention.”

Jamison said it used to be that Narcan had to thrown away because it was not used before the expiration date.
Now, it is tougher to get and supply could dwindle even more if the public has access to prescriptions of the life-saving drug.

As for further legislation to help curb heroin abuse, Linder said it is inevitable as the problem grows.
“I think we’ve got a drug problem,” he said. “The previous legislature addressed it last year with House Bill 1. It has been very successful. The problem is that it has moved people from prescription pills to heroin. We’ve got to start addressing the heroin problem. Unfortunately, when we address the heroin problem, I think certain people will move to other drugs. I guess we’re chasing our tails somewhat, but you’ve got to continue to do things to strengthen the laws and do what you can to help people overcome drug addiction.”

Thayer said lawmakers passed House Bill 217 this session to help clean up some of the unintended consequences of the law passed last year regulating prescription pills and targeting alleged pill mills.
He also voted for Senate Bill 6, proposed by Sen. Kathy Stine, which he said would have given tougher penalties to heroin traffickers.

However, the bill did not pass the House.
Linder believes there also needs to be tougher penalties for repeat offenders or habitual users.
“People fall victim to this and if they can get out of this, that’s one thing,” he said. “But, when they continue to fall into the traps of drugs and are repeat offenders in drug-related crimes, I think we need to strengthen jail time.”

While it is difficult for legislators to stay ahead of drug dealers, Thayer said the problem is only going to worsen if a solution is not found.
“Part of the problem is that this heroin epidemic sort of crept up on Kentucky really fast,” he said. “I don’t think there was a broad enough understanding of how bad the problem is and steps we can take to fight it. I’m hopeful that by next year’s session there will be a greater understanding of the damage it’s doing and some more ideas on how to fight it or more support for Senate Bill 6.”