Office of the Attorney General
Governor, Attorney General and Legislators Push for Passage of Critical Prescription Drug Abuse Bill

Press Release Date:  Friday, April 06, 2012  
Contact Information:  Shelley Catharine Johnson
Deputy Communications Director
502-696-5659 (office)

One day remains in the regular session for the 2012 General Assembly, and the state's top leaders say that's enough time to pass a bill that will help the state battle one of its most significant threats – prescription drug abuse.

In a bipartisan showing of support, Governor Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Senate Minority Leader Robert Stivers, Senator Jimmy Higdon and Rep. John Tilley all called on the legislature to pass House Bill 4 when lawmakers return to Frankfort for their final day April 12.

Since the beginning of 2012, more than 400 Kentuckians have been hospitalized because of prescription drug overdoses – a statistic that the leaders say underscores the crucial need to pass this bill in this legislative session.

"Every day that we delay strengthening our response to prescription drug abuse is another opportunity for a Kentuckian to fall victim to this devastating scourge," said Gov. Beshear. "Our law enforcement officers, our medical licensure boards, and our communities are desperate for new tools to attack this epidemic. HB 4 can help, and I am calling on our lawmakers to deliver."

More Kentuckians die of drug overdoses than in traffic accidents. Kentucky has the nation's sixth-highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths, at nearly 18 deaths per 100,000. According to a 2011 Kentucky Health Issues poll, one in three Kentuckians reported having a family member or close friend that abuses prescription drugs.

"This legislation is an important step in our effort to fight a problem that kills more than 1,000 Kentuckians each year," General Conway said. "I'm hopeful everyone, including the medical community, can get on board with House Bill 4 to ensure that we don't lose another generation in Kentucky to prescription drug abuse."

"Few bills I have worked on have had the level of input that House Bill 4 has had, and that's been crucial, because it will take a lot of cooperation between law enforcement and healthcare professionals to carry it out," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the bill's sponsor. "Given the true epidemic we are seeing, we cannot afford to wait another year to try to pass this again. The time to act is now."

"The heartbreaking statistics speak for themselves. The diversion of prescription drugs and illegal uses of prescription drugs are serious issues facing the Commonwealth," said Sen. Stivers. "This directly affects families, jobs, and the well-being of communities. We must take swift action that is designed to immediately address and impact this problem. House Bill 4 does that."

"I'm looking forward to getting back to the Capitol on Thursday to work on the final version of House Bill 4 with other Senators and Representatives," said Sen. Higdon. "I think this is a crucial, crucial bill that has to be passed."

"This legislative session is poised to be remembered for the major bills we have passed to fight drug abuse, but it's vital that House Bill 4 be part of that group, because it has tremendous potential to dramatically slow prescription drug abuse in the years ahead," said Rep. John Tilley, of Hopkinsville.

In October, Gov. Beshear, Attorney General Conway and Speaker Stumbo announced the creation of a Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) advisory board of physicians, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists to work with KASPER officials and law enforcement professionals to create guidelines for generally accepted prescribing practices among different medical disciplines. These criteria will be used as a guide for when a prescriber or dispenser's KASPER reports may be flagged for unusual prescribing activity.

They have also supported other prescription drug legislation, and have forged relationships with other states to share successful strategies. Both Gov. Beshear and Attorney General Conway have testified before Congress regarding the impact of this epidemic on Kentucky citizens and communities.

Elements of HB 4

HB 4, sponsored by Speaker Stumbo, offers a broad spectrum of policies that impact not just prescribers, but also medical licensure boards and pain clinic operators. The bill would:

  • Expand the reach of KASPER by requiring all prescription providers to register and use the system under circumstances outlined by their licensure boards. This will allow better information sharing among licensure boards and investigators, as well as regular data review of KASPER reports to root out unusually high prescribing rates for further investigation;
  • Require pain management clinics to be owned by a licensed medical practitioner. This would eliminate the growing problem of unaccountable operators of ‘pill mills' who have little or no medical proficiency but are dispensing controlled substances; and
  • Require medical licensure boards to investigate prescribing complaints immediately and issue a report within 120 days determining whether appropriate medical practices have been followed.

Law enforcement members warn that Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida have passed legislation similar to HB 4 to address pill mills, and failing to pass similar legislation could create a diversion effect in which Kentucky could become a source state for prescription painkillers.

"Our legislators still have time to pass meaningful legislation that will have immediate and lasting impact on Kentucky families and communities," said Gov. Beshear. "Prescription drug abuse has been a key issue in this legislative session, and our lawmakers have an opportunity to deliver a bill that has real value for fighting this scourge. I look forward to signing this bill."