Will a New Heroin Bill be the Answer to Curbing Abuse?

heroinNorthern Kentucky has been hit hard by drug abuse in recent years—methamphetamine has long been ensconced in the region (including in the neighboring states of Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Arkansas and Indiana) with over a thousand meth-related incidents occurring in each state per year. Now in addition to meth, heroin dealers are attempting to flood the area with their own illegal drug too.

This is a known tactic which is employed when dealers are trying to “open a new market” by getting as many people as possible hooked on their product in a short span of time. For obvious reasons, it’s difficult to pin down the exact source of the sudden influx of heroin. However, Mexican drug cartels are already known to have a strong influence in the region as they try to squash local meth producers and gain a monopoly on the meth market. They are also known by the DEA to be expanding their heroin operations in the United States as the US market moves away from cocaine. It is likely that this influx of heroin is coming from one or more Mexican cartels attempting to bolster both their profit margin and their hold on the region.

In the face of this challenge, the Kentucky legislature has passed a new law. It’s full of many strategies, and is designed to attack the heroin problem on several fronts simultaneously, before it can settle in to Kentucky’s hills as meth has done. It shows much determination but unfortunately little promise that it will stem the impending tide of heroin abuse.

WHAT’S IN THE BILL?

The law reads like a laundry list of all the most popular ways to combat heroin.

Needle Exchanges: This bill allows for the establishment of needle exchanges at health departments across the state—but only if the locals approve. The hope of needle exchanges is always that addicts will be less likely to infect each other (or to infect others who accidentally encounter their used needles).   However, there is already opposition from several police chiefs and sheriffs in Kentucky. Without their endorsement, the needle exchanges are unlikely to take off.

In addition to the popularity problem, several government studies performed in the 1990s found that needle exchanges do help to reduce the transmission of blood-borne illnesses. They also found that needle exchanges do not increase the numbers of drug users. However, they don’t decrease the rates either. While needle exchanges are a helpful method of reducing illnesses, they are beside the point when attempting to solve the actual drug use.

Good Samaritan protection: Providing protection to Good Samaritans is a growing trend in recent attempts to battle heroin abuse. Kentucky’s law will grant immunity to any addicts who report overdoses in others. This has also been promoted as a solution in other areas, but again, fails to respond to the underlying situation.

Preparing First Responders: First responders who are equipped with doses of naloxone (a drug which very quickly counteracts heroin overdoses) are able to save addicts who would be likely to die of overdose on their way to the hospital for treatment. Because of this, Kentucky is now going to equip more first responders to be carry and administer naloxone when needed. When combined with the Good Samaritan protection, this is a good way to prevent a lot of heroin-related deaths.

Heavy Penalties for Traffickers: In the part of the bill which has the best chance for actually putting a dent in heroin dealings, there is now a penalty of ten years in prison for the importation of heroin. Anybody selling it, even just two grams, will face 5 to 10 years in prison. For people selling over 100 grams, the penalty is 10 to 20 years.

The hope is that this combination of help and deterrent will chase away dealers while supporting heroin addicts. However, if the heroin surge is coming from Mexican cartels it seems unlikely that they will be so easily put off.

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