STEARNS – “The laws that you passed will save lives,” Karen Kelly, director of Operation UNITE, told members of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary meeting Friday morning in McCreary County.

Kelly was one of several people to address House and Senate members on current efforts designed to counter the state’s substance abuse problems – including overdose deaths, prescription drug abuse and diversion, and methamphetamine.

“(Substance abuse) is everybody’s responsibility,” Kelly emphasized as she outlined ongoing investigation, treatment and education initiatives offered by UNITE. “We see a lot of enabling. We’re just trying to intervene early and often.”

The public fact-finding session was held before approximately 75 citizens and local officials in the auditorium of McCreary Central High School Friday, July 6.

The joint committee is co-chaired by Sen. Tom Jensen of London (R-21st) and Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville (D-8th). Fifteen of the committee’s 28 members attended the two-hour program.

In addition to Jensen and Tilly, those present were: Rep. Sara Beth Gregory of Monticello (R-52nd), Rep. Joni L. Jenkins of Shivley (D-44th), Sen. Ray S. Jones II of Pikeville (D-31st), Rep. Thomas Kerr of Taylor Mill (R-64th), Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville (D-34th), Rep. Michael J. Nemes of Louisville (R-38th), Rep. Darryl T. Owens of Louisville (D-43rd), Rep. Tom Riner of Louisville (D-41st), Sen. John Schickel of Union (R-11th), Sen. Dan “Malano” Seum of Fairdale (R-38th), Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard (R-30th), Sen. Robin L. Webb of Grayson (D-18th), and Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville (D-15th).

“This is not something that is going to get any better for a while,” stated Sen. Webb, adding she appreciated efforts by groups who are trying to make a difference.

Many comments emphasized how substance abuse takes a personal toll on families and communities.

“All of my statistics have names,” stated Whitley County Coroner Andy Croley, who has been tracking drug overdose deaths for several years.

He cited the example of 13-year-old Christopher Mark Fuson, whose January 2012 death was ruled acute combined drug toxicity, with four different drugs in his system. Many of these accidental deaths are attributable to an easy access to prescription medications.

Whitley County experienced 51 confirmed drug-related deaths in 2011, and there have already been 23 as of June 25, with 13 cases pending test results, Croley stated, adding that “prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing problem.”

A provision in House Bill 1, which takes effect July 20, directs coroners to test for controlled substances when appropriate and report drug overdose deaths to the State Registrar of Vital Statistics and the Kentucky State Police, said Joe Williams, executive director of Appalachia HIDTA. These findings are required to be made public.

“Eighty-two people die of drug-related overdoses in Kentucky every month,” said Williams, who retired from the KSP last year. “We think (the number of drug-related deaths) is very under reported.”

Other key requirements of HB-1 include:
• Requiring doctors and nurses to check the KASPER (Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting) system before dispensing certain scheduled drugs and authorizing greater access to the information.
• Mandating that “pain management facilities” be owned by a physician holding an active Kentucky medical license.
• Authorizing the KSP, Office of the Attorney General, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Licensing Boards to share reports of improper prescribing.

“We were compelled to act” on this issue, which has been labeled a nationwide “epidemic” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stated Rep. Tilley. “I think we came out with a good bill” that addresses major concerns on both sides of the issue.

Currently only about 28 percent of doctors use the KASPER monitoring program, which has been used as a national model, Tilley stated. Of those who do utilize the information, 9 out of 10 “say it works.”

Another new bill – House Bill 3 – discussed Friday sets tougher restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine products – the key ingredient in manufacturing methamphetamine.

Despite previous legislative efforts, meth lab incidents continue to increase across Kentucky, Williams stated, adding police are only locating “a small percentage” of these labs.

McCreary and its four surrounding counties (Laurel, Pulaski, Wayne and Whitley) accounted for approximately 20 percent of the state’s meth lab incidents in 2010 and 2011.

The new law, lowers the amount of pseudoephedrine that may be purchased each month from 9 grams to 7.2 grams, with a 24 grams per year limit – down from 108 grams. Gel caps and liquid pseudoephedrine products are not affected and higher doses may be purchased with a doctor’s prescription.

“I appreciate all the work that you do” to stop the spread of meth, said Rep. Gregory. “So often I think people can deceive themselves because no one in their family are meth users.”

During the presentation, Kelly showed photos of a house in McCreary County that will have to be demolished because 58 meth labs and 36 HCL generators were discovered last month when family members went to get items following the homeowner’s death.

Even if you don’t use or make methamphetamine you can be affected, Kelly said.

Sgt. Mark Burden of the Kentucky State Police discussed provisions of House Bill 481, which prohibits trafficking in or possession of synthetic drugs such as “bath salts.”

These synthetic drugs contain amphetamaine-like chemicals and have emerged over the past year as a new way to get high. Marketed under enticing names and sold online or in stores, they are increasingly being blamed for a number of emergency room visits.

Long-term effects of taking synthetic drugs are still unknown, but short-term effects include fast heart rate, high blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures and rapid mood swings, among others.

The bill carried an emergency clause enabling it to become effective upon the governor’s signature on April 11.