August 20, 2014
The Resurgence of Heroin
I’ve been fighting prescription drug abuse since my first day as your Attorney General, and our Commonwealth has been battling this issue for almost two decades. In Kentucky, more people die from prescription drug overdoses than car accidents, and Kentucky was the third or fourth most medicated state in the country.
This addiction to painkillers started in Eastern Kentucky in the 1990s. At the time, Oxycontin was referred to as “hillbilly heroin” because it produced a similar high. Now, the addiction has spread to every corner of our state. It has touched almost every Kentucky family, including my own. This epidemic shatters families and fuels crime. It has also fueled a resurgence of heroin.
To address the prescription pill epidemic, my office crafted legislation that is now a national model to shut down about half of Kentucky’s pain clinics. Doctors are now being educated about prescribing standards for opiate painkillers, and the state is yanking the licenses of physicians who are handing out pills like they are candy.
I also created Kentucky’s first statewide prescription drug task force to investigate those who are overprescribing and those who are doctor shopping. Our office participated in the largest drug bust in this state’s history. I’ve worked in a bipartisan fashion with my Republican counterpart in Florida to shut down the pipeline of prescription pills that was flowing in to Kentucky from pain clinics in her state. We have also worked together to co-chair the National Association of Attorneys General Substance Abuse Committee.
And I’ve traveled our Commonwealth with parents who’ve lost their children to prescription drug overdoses to educate young people about the dangers of abuse. To date, we’ve educated more than 42,000 students, parents and teachers about the dangers of opiate addiction and how the addiction many times starts in the homes in our medicine cabinets. That’s why I encourage all parents to throw away or lock up their unused prescription medications.
Our efforts have made a difference. For the first time, painkiller prescriptions are down in Kentucky and the state’s abuse numbers are below the national average. But as it’s become more difficult to find overprescribing physicians, as the price of pills has increased on the streets, and as the manufacturers have created tamper-resistant medications, we’ve seen an increase in the use of heroin because it’s easier and cheaper to obtain.
Heroin is a cousin to prescription pain pills. They are both opiates and it’s not a stretch to call painkillers “heroin pills.” In fact, just Google “Bayer and heroin,” and you’ll find that the pharmaceutical company actually sold heroin pills for pain in the late 1800s, and it sparked a heroin epidemic in this country.
During the last legislative session, Rep. John Tilley, Sen. Katie Stine and I sponsored legislation that would increase the penalties for heroin trafficking, make dealers eligible for murder charges, and increase access to opiate addiction counseling. The bill got caught up in last-minute horse trading and never advanced.
I’ve always said we cannot arrest our way out of this opiate addiction problem. We must increase access to treatment. Kentucky only has about one-tenth of the treatment beds it needs. When I recently settled two cases against pharmaceutical companies for $32 million, I knew I wanted those companies to help clean up some of the mess they created. That money is now being used throughout Kentucky to expand substance abuse treatment and treatment for addiction.
A new Recovery Kentucky treatment center will soon be completed near Ashland, Ky. and hundreds of Kentuckians will have the opportunity to benefit from treatment scholarships and drug-free housing. The money will also help substance abuse treatment centers for pregnant or parenting women, such as Chrysalis House in Lexington and Independence House in Corbin.
In addition, approximately $20 million from the settlement fund has been allocated for KY Kids Recovery, a grant program that will fund comprehensive juvenile substance abuse treatment programs, both expanding treatment beds at existing facilities and creating new juvenile treatment programs. We recently announced the recipients of those grants. This initiative is a dream I’ve had for almost seven years, and I’m so thankful it is now a reality.
I firmly believe this historic investment will save lives in Kentucky, and we must continue investing in education and treatment. I know that working together, we can make Kentucky a safer place to live, work and raise our families.