FRANKFORT, Ky. – A month into the 60-day legislative session and Frankfort is alive with the sound of bills being filed, advocates being heard and votes being counted.
One of those voices was a Northern Kentucky father, who talked to lawmakers about how a bill they are voting on might have saved his son’s life.
Eric Specht, of Fort Thomas, Ky., shared his personal story to put a human face on the epidemic plaguing Northern Kentucky.
“It’s not the old stigma of people of some bum living out of their car, it can be your next-door neighbor, their kid or the lady checking out your groceries sat the store. There are people using heroin that you don’t even know are using heroin. They are just doing it to get through the day,” Specht said.
It was his kid last year.
Eric and Holly Specht lost their son, 30-year-old Nicholas Specht on Aug. 8, 2013, to an accidental heroin overdose.
Nicholas Specht is part of a growing and troubling statistic: Overdose deaths were the leading cause of accidental deaths in Kentucky in 2012, topping drowning and fire.
Between 2011-2012, Boone County documented 48 drug overdose cases; Campbell County: 79; and Kenton County leads Northern Kentucky with 109 drug overdoses in two years, according to the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
Specht said he needed to be heard, for Nicholas, and for the countless other parents of struggling addicts.
The bill would give doctors permission to prescribe the drug naloxone to families of addicts, as well as emergency first responders. The drug reverses the effects of heroin during an overdose, thus reducing overdose deaths, advocates say.
“I can’t help but wonder if things would be different if we had access to the medication,'' Specht said.
The bill would further require the Kentucky Medicaid program to pay for treatment.
Not Enough Beds
But a more pressing issue is the need for more treatment beds, Specht said: “The lack of residential treatment in Northern Kentucky is truly a problem."
At one point, Specht said his son wanted help, but the family said there were no openings at local treatment facilities.
“When you have the situation and you have no place to send your child for long-term treatment, it’s the most frustrating—when you’re told to call back in two months, that doesn’t work,” he said.
Northern Kentucky has just over 300 beds for detox and addiction residential treatment at five facilities:
- Transitions detox unit, at a cost of $119.06 a day, has 11 beds and treated 542 patients in 2012 - up from 371 in 2009.
- Transition's Droege House of Dayton, Ky., at a cost of $61.81 a day, has 44 beds and treated 270 patients in 2012 - up from 170 in 2009.
- Brighton Recovery Center for Women, in Covington, Ky., at a cost of $32 a day or $11,663 a year, has 110 beds and treated 85 patients in 2012 - up from 74 in 2011. Since 2010, 52 percent of women treated at the center reported they were addicted to heroin.
- The Grateful Life Center for Men, in Erlanger, Ky., at a cost of $61.81 a day, has 110 beds and treated 208 patients in 2012 - up from 88 in 2009.
- Women’s Residential Addiction Program, in Covington, Ky., at a cost of $61.81 a day, has 44 beds and treated 253 patients in 2012 - up from 176 in 2009.
Taking Aim At Heroin Traffickers
A bill that goes “hand-in-hand” with SB5, said State Sen. John Schickel (R-Union), is his Senate Bill 11 (SB11), which targets drug traffickers, as opposed to the addicts.
Darren Smith with the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force said 63 percent of Kentucky's heroin cases are in Northern Kentucky.
"This is the worst it's ever been--whatever we're doing isn't working," said Smith. "We're not after the addict, we want the traffickers."
Schickel pre-filed his bill combating heroin traffickers in 2013 for the 2014 session.
“Run heroin dealers out of our area—there’s too much easy access to heroin. We need to punish people who are trafficking heroin and punish them severely,” said Schickel, a retired police officer and former undercover drug agent.
Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said trafficking is skyrocketing locally because of Northern Kentucky's proximity to interstates.
The shift to heroin in Kentucky came, Sanders said, once the Commonwealth cracked down on the widespread abuse of prescription drugs and particularly prescriptions painkillers. As a result, prescription drugs became more expensive and harder to get. Heroin slid into the picture, readily available and less expensive for addicts looking for a fix—giving prescription addicts an alternative.
Mexico supplies 90 percent of Northern Kentucky’s cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine, Sanders said.
Schickel’s bill would change the punishment in Kentucky from a Class D felony, where convicts are required to serve 20 percent of their time before they are eligible for parole, to a Class C felony. That designation would require convicts to serve a mandatory 50 percent of prison sentence, regardless of the amount of heroin they were convicted of distributing.
“It puts penalties back where they were two years ago,” said Schickel. “We lowered penalties and now we’re having a horrible problem… it was a bad idea then, bad idea now.”
Drug dealers are very aware of the penalties in Kentucky, Schickel said: “We were creating an economic incentive to drug dealers because the penalties are higher in Ohio.”
“We need to raise penalties and they will go to other areas to pedal their death,” said the senator.
SB11 is now in the judiciary committee for review.
Bills To Watch in Frankfort
-Senate Bill 80 (SB80): Giving the same permissions to service monkeys as Kentucky currently does for service dogs.
- Filed by: Sen. John Schickel (R-Union)
- Status: Jan. 17 to Agriculture (S) for review
In Ohio and Georgia, you may see monkeys outside of the zoo, in a different capacity, helping people. That’s what Schickel hopes to see in Kentucky as well.
SB80, introduced by Schickel, said the bill comes after talking to a Northern Kentucky family and their struggles.
The family told him that they wanted to use a service monkey to assist their daughter, who, after a tragic traffic accident in Boone County—flying out of the back of the truck she was traveling in—was paralyzed from the back down.
The family applied to Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers in Massachusetts but could not receive a service capuchin monkey, since Kentucky does not recognize monkeys as service animals through the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. Ohio and Georgia do.
For 35 years, Helping Hands has trained monkeys to assist paralyzed adults with tasks, like picking up items or turning the lights on and off.
“This kind of animal can do things that a dog cannot do,” said Schickel about the bill he filed.
“I know that there’s differing opinions, but I wanted to get the conversation started,” said Schickel.
Sarah Baeckler Davis, executive director of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, told the Associated Press, monkeys are wild animals that don't belong in homes.
“Whenever you try to domesticate wild animals, can be a problem,” Schickel continued. “We need to see if there’s a viable solution.”
Realistically, he said, the bill probably won’t move this year, but he hopes to do research over the summer and reintroduce it again in the next session.
Senate Bill 58 (SB58): Bill would abolish the State Treasurer's office, proposing to save state $3 million.
- Filed by: Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill)
- Feb. 4 passed in Senate
-Senate Bill 35 (SB35): Bill would expand Kentucky's PSC from three appointed members to seven elected commissioners.
- Status: Jan. 13 to Natural Resources & Energy (S) for review
-Senate Bill 63 (SB63): Bill proposes saving employers costs on their workers' compensation assessments by encouraging one-time settlements on claims before 1996.
- Sponsored by: Sen. Chis McDaniel
- Status: Jan. 15 to Licensing, Occupations, & Administrative Regulations (S) for review
-House Bill 67 (HB67) / Senate Bill 33 (SB33): Casino Gaming—Bills filed in their respective chambers to amend the Kentucky Constitution allowing the General Assembly to submit to Kentucky voters to permit casino gaming.
SB 33--Status: Jan. 13 to State & Local Government (S)
HB 67--Status: Jan. 7 introduced in House; to Licensing & Occupations (H)
-House Bill 1 (HB1): Kentucky’s minimum wage would raise from $7.25, where it has stood since 2007, to $8.20 on July 1, 2014. It would raise again each year until the minimum wage is $10.10 in July of 2016.
- Filed by: House Speaker Greg Stumbo (Prestonsburg-D)
- Status: Feb. 6 passed in House
-House Bill 5 (HB5): Cyber security protection. HB5 would require state and local government agencies to notify citizens if their personal information is breached.
- Status: Jan. 31 received in Senate for review
-House Bill 8 (HB8): Redefining abortion to classify as domestic violence.
- Filed by: Rep. Joe Fischer (R-Fort Thomas)
- Status: Jan. 15 recommitted to Judiciary (H) for review
-House Bill 243 (HB243): Proposing an increase the tax credit amount, from $250 to $500 annually, related to out-of-pocket expenses made by teachers for items to be used in the classroom.
- Filed by: Rep. Brian Linder (R-Dry Ridge)
- Status: Jan. 23 to Appropriations & Revenue (H) for review
-House Bill 37 (HB37): Creates individual angel investor tax credit that will spur private investment into state and help small businesses create jobs and innovation in the Commonwealth.
- Sponsored by: Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington)
- Jan. 7 introduced in House; to Appropriations & Revenue (H)
House Bill 300 (HB300): Proposing gubernatorial candidates to run independently without a lieutenant governor running mate until after the primary elections.
- Filed by: Dennis Keene (D-Wilder)
- Feb. 3 to Elections, Const. Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs (H)
For more stories by Jessica Noll, go to www.wcpo.com/noll. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaWCPO.