Call to Order and Roll Call
The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary was held on Friday, July 6, 2012, at 10:00 AM, at McCreary Central High School, Stearns, Kentucky. Senator Tom Jensen, Chair, called the meeting to order, the secretary called the roll, and a quorum was present.
Members:Senator Tom Jensen, Co-Chair; Representative John Tilley, Co-Chair; Senators Ray S. Jones II, John Schickel, Dan "Malano" Seum, Brandon Smith, and Robin L. Webb; Representatives Sara Beth Gregory, Joni L. Jenkins, Thomas Kerr, Mary Lou Marzian, Michael J. Nemes, Darryl T. Owens, Tom Riner, and Brent Yonts.
Guests: Joe Williams, Appalachia HIDTA; Sgt. Mark Burden, Kentucky State Police; and Karen Kelly, Operation UNITE.
The minutes of the June 1 meeting were approved without objection.
Drug Bills Update
Joe Williams, Director, Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program told the committee he recently retired after a 32-year career with the Kentucky State Police with the rank of Lt. Colonel. Col. Williams gave a summary of controlled substances legislation passed by the 2012 General Assembly. 2012 Extraordinary Session House Bill 1, relating to prescription drugs, takes effect on July 20, 2012. The bill includes requirements for ownership, staffing, and operation of pain management facilities; requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, Kentucky Board of Nursing, and law enforcement to share complaint information; requires licensing boards to promulgate administrative regulations on mandatory prescribing and dispensing practices and to accept unsworn complaints and anonymous complaints with sufficient verification; requires physicians and practitioners to use the KASPER drug tracking program prior to prescribing controlled substances; permits medical office personnel and Commonwealth's and County Attorneys and their assistants to access KASPER; and requires the state to enter into agreements with other states for sharing of prescription information. Representative Yonts said several doctors told him KASPER reports sometimes take one to three weeks.
Col. Williams said prescription drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in Kentucky, causing twice as many deaths as motor vehicle accidents. Drugs most frequently involved in accidental overdoses include Oxycodone, Alprazolam (Xanax), Hydrocodone, Methadone, and Oxymorphone. Overdoses frequently involve more than one drug. In response to a question from Senator Webb, Col. Williams said a coroner or a laboratory would determine if a death was caused by an accidental overdose. Senator Jensen noted that the high cost of illegal prescription drugs has resulted in increased use of black tar heroin in northern and eastern Kentucky.
2012 Regular Session Senate Bill 3 places limits on the purchase of the solid form of pseudoephedrine but does not limit the purchase of liquid or gel cap forms. Pseudoephedrine is a necessary ingredient for the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine. Purchases are limited to 7.2 grams per month with a maximum limit of 24 grams per year. The bill prohibits the purchase of pseudoephedrine by persons convicted of methamphetamine-related offenses for a period of five years, enhances the purchase tracking system, and requires annual reports to the Legislative Research Commission.
Col. Williams said children, family members, law enforcement personnel, and the general public are at risk of contamination from toxic fumes and environmental hazards associated with manufacturing methamphetamine. In response to a question from Senator Webb about increasing reports of Mexican drug cartel methamphetamine being reported in western Kentucky, Col. Williams said although some imported methamphetamine is found in Kentucky, the Mexican drug cartels use the P2P method of laboratory manufacture, resulting in a product which is half as strong as the one-step methods used in Kentucky. He noted there could be an increase in Mexican methamphetamine if the efforts to reduce domestic production are successful.
Sgt. Mark Burden, Kentucky State Police, discussed 2012 House Bill 481, which criminalizes the manufacture, sale, and possession of synthetic cannabinoids, piperazines, and cathinones. Sometimes known as designer drugs, a term used to describe drugs which are created and marketed to circumvent existing drug laws, these products are frequently marketed to minors under names such as Mad Monkey and Scooby Snax. Synthetic cannabinoids are frequently known as synthetic marijuana, and synthetic cathinones are frequently known as bath salts or plant food products. Many deaths and psychotic episodes, such as a videotaped episode shown to the committee, have resulted from the use of bath salts. The new legislation prohibits classes of drugs, not specific drugs, because altering the molecular structure of the products allowed them to remain a legal product in Kentucky. Under House Bill 481, possession of a synthetic drug is a Class B misdemeanor with a 30 day sentence. Trafficking in a synthetic drug is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class D felony for subsequent offenses. If the synthetic drug is sold to a minor, it becomes a Class C felony for the first offense and a Class B felony for subsequent offenses. In addition, the law provides for twice the amount of the gain fines for trafficking and seizure and forfeiture of property for trafficking. HB 481 contained an emergency clause and became effective on April 11, 2012.
Representative Tilley said Christian County is the epicenter of synthetic drug use in Kentucky, primarily because of its popularity with soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell who are able to pass drug screens while using these products. Representative Tilley said Franklin County Attorney Rick Sparks told him an ounce of bath salts costs more than an ounce of gold.
In response to a question from Senator Seum about how a retailer can determine whether a product is legal to sell under the new law, Sgt. Burden said the nature of the product, the name of the product, and the sale price are primary indicators because ordinary legitimate bath salts and plant food come in much larger packaging at much lower prices.
J. Andrew Croley, Whitley County Coroner, told the committee that prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem. A 2009 national survey found that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time began by using a prescription drug for non-medical reasons. The same survey found that over 70 percent who used prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives, while only five percent got them from a drug dealer. He said an estimated 20 percent of people in the United States use prescription drugs for non-medical reasons, and abusing narcotic painkillers, stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers can lead to addiction.
Mr. Croley discussed the death of Christopher Mark Fuson, a 13 year old middle school student who accidentally overdosed on prescription drugs that had not been prescribed for his use. His death certificate listed acute combined drug (Hydrocodone, Alprazolam, Tramadol, Promethazine) toxicity. Some of the drugs tested at 5.8 times the therapeutic range. In 2011, there were 51 drug deaths in Whitley County, and through June 25, 2012, there have been 23 deaths due to prescription drug overdoses. These deaths have been attributed to Alprazolam (Xanax) (23 percent), Oxycodone (13 percent), Hydrocodone (nine percent), cannabinoids (nine percent), Tramadol (four percent), alcohol (four percent), and cocaine (one percent).
Karen Kelly, President and CEO of Operation UNITE, gave a history of the program, launched in April 2003 by Congressman Harold "Hal" Rogers in response to the special report “Prescription for Pain” published by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ms. Kelly said the articles exposed the addiction and corruption associated with drug abuse in southern and eastern Kentucky. The program serves 29 counties and includes undercover narcotics investigations, substance abuse treatment, and public education efforts. UNITE has arrested 3,711 individuals, seized 104,882 pills, 273 meth labs, 23.5 pounds of cocaine, 466 pounds of processed marijuana, and 5,844 marijuana plants, with a total value of $11,618,446. The substance abuse treatment program has provided $7.38 million in vouchers for residential treatment, invested $4.2 million to create 30 Drug Court programs, in which 3,111 persons have participated, and collected $1,017,835 in fines, restitution, and child support.
UNITE's education program has 30 Community Coalitions in which 66,570 youth have participated, has 11,000 volunteers, and has provided drug free workplace training to many businesses and industries. Prevention programs include prescription drug drop boxes, anti-drug rallies, youth leadership programs, community outreach and education programs for children, a UNITE Service Corps to help tutor and mentor students in school, and Camp UNITE, a four-day leadership camp. UNITE is launching a new program for students to educate them about the consequences of having a felony conviction called "Life with a Record." In response to a question from Representative Marzian, Ms. Kelly said UNITE receives funding from federal grants, coal severance tax, an AmeriCorps Grant, and private sector support from businesses such as Walmart and Kentucky River Coal Company. Senator Webb cautioned the downturn in the coal industry and coal mine layoffs will result in less coal severance tax. Representative Gregory thanked Ms. Kelly and UNITE for the work being done in eastern Kentucky. Senator Jensen said Ms. Kelly was one of the founders of the UNITE program and has been with the program since its beginning.
The meeting adjourned at 12:20 p.m.