Prescription drug abuse deserves the same level of attention in the Kentucky legislature as some other issues that have captured most of the headlines over the past month, Gov. Steve Beshear said this week.
Beshear said he doesn’t want “ the scourge” of prescription abuse, blamed for more than 80 overdose deaths a month in the state, to be ignored as lawmakers finalize redistricting and begin drafting the state budget.
“The rising abuse of prescription drugs is literally killing our people,” Beshear said during a Capitol press conference. “It’s causing untold pain and misery in our families. It’s robbing our economy of productive workers. It’s filling our jails, our hospitals and our treatment centers. And it’s draining our state budget.”
Beshear and other top state officials, including Attorney General Jack Conway, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers II, pushed for pending legislative initiatives, including one that would limit Oxycontin and other powerful painkillers to no more than 30-day allotments in an effort to limit the supplies of the drugs to addicts.
Stumbo filed legislation last week that calls for the state’s prescription monitoring program, known as KASPER, to be placed under the jurisdiction of the attorney general, the state’s top law enforcement officer. The monitoring program is currently administered by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, a social services agency. The change would give law enforcement and prosecutors quick access to key information that could identify unscrupulous physicians.
State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, RLebanon, filed a separate bill aimed at curbing the number of pain management clinics that he blames for supplying addicts with painkillers.
Higdon’s proposal is to the clinics to operate in Kentucky only if they’re owned by physicians licensed in the state. In-state physicians would be subject to sanctions, including revoking their licenses, for overprescribing the pills.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy considers abuse of prescription pills the fastest growing drug problem in the United States.
At the invitation of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Kentucky last year to see firsthand the toll prescription drugs take. Kerlikowske called what he found “heartbreaking.”
Despite political division on other issues, Beshear called for Democrats and Republicans to work together to deal with prescription drug abuse.
“This is one topic that we can agree on,” he said. “This is one topic that is devastating our communities. It’s one topic that we need to step up and be as aggressive and forceful as possible to fight this dreaded calamity.”
The legislation is House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 42.