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Battle Lines Drawn On Heroin Bills

Josh James

With the Senate already weighing in on heroin with their first bill this session, Monday was the House’s turn to lay out their plan to combat the growing epidemic. While the two bills share much in common, there are a number of key differences.

While Senate Bill 5 ups penalties for heroin possession across the board, House Bill 213 differentiates between low-level users and heavy traffickers, an addition Rep. John Tilley argues creates a fairer system.

"We'll have three levels of trafficking.... Two grams and under will be referred to as a 'peddler.' Still a Class D felony, no change in the law. Above two grams and up to a kilo will be a Class C felony, punishable by up to five to ten years in prison," he explained.

A third tier, dubbed "aggravated trafficking," would rank as a Class B felony, landing violators behind bars for up to twenty years. 

The bill places greater emphasis on treatment than its Senate counterpart and also authorizes wider use of Naloxone by granting pharmacists access to the overdose-reversing drug.

One provision bound to generate controversy is the addition of a local option for needle exchange programs, an idea that helped scuttle a heroin bill in the House last year. Tilley was adamant, however, that it’s worth the debate.

"If it works and people are dying and this can save lives, then there is no excuse for not including it," the work group head said.

But Senate Bill 5 sponsor Chris McDaniel doubts the language will survive. He told reporters, "I think needle exchange could have difficulties in both chambers. There are a lot of members who philosophically have an issue with needle exchange."

A House committee will take up the bill on Wednesday. Tilley expects the full House to consider the legislation by next week.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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