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Kentucky can’t wait on pill mill bill

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Other Views/Kentucky League of Cities

 On April 12, lawmakers will assemble for the last day of the 60-day session.  While the General Assembly concluded the bulk of its work before leaving Frankfort last Friday, it left one of the most critical pieces of legislation for our state and communities uncompleted.

The General Assembly has yet to pass House Bill 4, commonly referred to as the pill mill bill.  The measure, which would provide oversight of pain clinics and greater monitoring of prescription drug abuse, has strong bipartisan support in both chambers and from the Governor.  In addition, city officials from every corner of our state have advocated for passage of this legislation as essential to protecting the quality of life in our communities.

Prescription drug abuse is perpetuated in our communities through fraudulent pain management facilities.  These “pill mills” are set up almost overnight and quickly have drug users lined up around city blocks to get more pain medicine to abuse or sell.  Right now, when the owners of the facilities sense they are under investigation, they can easily relocate in another community, delaying law enforcement action.  

As the mayors of Kentucky cities, we see the slew of social and economic problems caused by prescription drug abuse.  Theft, home invasions, robbery, increased violence, incarceration, expensive rehabilitation treatment, medical costs from overdoses and drug related injuries all threaten the safety of citizens and affect the bottom line for taxpayers.  Additionally, our communities absorb the economic impact of abusers’ time lost from work and increased demand on social welfare programs.  Many of our local businesses can’t get enough workers who can pass a drug screening, and businesses who may consider locating here turn away at the sight of this pervasive drug abuse.    

House Bill 4 would require all pain management centers be owned by licensed medical professionals or hospitals.  The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure would also be required to stop granting licenses to doctors charged for overprescribing in other states and immediately suspend licenses when doctors are indicted.  It moves the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system under the oversight of the Kentucky Attorney General, which gives law enforcement increased access to the data.  Right now, law enforcement cannot see data regarding unusual prescribing practices.  The bill requires more doctors to use KASPER before prescribing and outlines mandatory addiction awareness training.  Additionally, it makes Kentucky a part of the interstate compact for state prescription monitoring programs, since we all know that this problem does not recognize geographic boundaries.  

Local leaders and citizens are relying on the General Assembly to take strong and decisive action on this issue right now.  As pointed out by the Attorney General in a legal opinion last year, city and county governments lack the legal authority to impose local laws to eradicate this problem.  Therefore, the burden falls squarely on the shoulders of the members of the General Assembly to ensure that this legislation is enacted and that it is not weakened to eliminate many of the important requirements, such as the immediate requirement for physician ownership of pain management clinics.  This legislation is far too important for the future of our Commonwealth to be derailed or weakened by the Kentucky Medical Association or separate pain clinic interests.  The General Assembly must remain resolute to keep Kentucky from becoming the pill mill capital of the United States.  

If the members of the General Assembly fail to act with conviction on this legislation, they should untie the hands of local governments because local officials have the fortitude and courage to take bold action to save their communities from this scourge. 

All citizens should join with their local officials in contacting lawmakers to urge enactment of strong legislation to address prescription drug abuse on April 12.  

Signed by Henderson Mayor Steve Austin, Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner, Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman, Pikeville Mayor Frank Justice, Hopkinsville Mayor Dan Kemp, Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton, Paintsville Mayor Bob Porter, Crestview Hills Mayor Paul Meier and London Mayor Troy Rudder are members of the Kentucky League of Cities.