There is the Kentucky we often see in literature: a reverence for the pastoral landscape and for folksy wisdom, for majestic horses and for the quiet secrets buried deep in the bluegrass and in the mountains. But new books by Kirby Gann and James Higdon dig deep inside the state’s drug trade to turn that traditional portrayal on its head.
Kentucky is collaborating with three other states to form the Interstate Prescription Drug Task Force, which will attempt to stop prescription drug abuse. Soon, doctors will be able to request data across state lines to monitor patient prescriptions.
Ohio and Kentucky announced earlier this month that they began exchanging prescription drug information in a similar program, and now Tennessee and West Virginia have been asked to participate.
“All of us have prescription monitoring programs but none of them are connected to the other,” said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “Where we met there in Ashland you could see a physician in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio in one afternoon.”
Each state will keep separate prescription medication data, but when requested will make that same data available to doctors across the borders, he said.
“Once we get a data sharing model what we want to be able to do is a prescriber go to his state’s prescription monitoring data website, but request data from other states as well, and he could get it all in a combined report,” said Ingram.
The task force will focus on four areas: treatment, law enforcement, education and monitoring. Specialists for each topic will meet via conference phone and are expected to make recommendations for how to address these issues. Recommendations are expected by the fall, said Ingram.
Gov. Steve Beshear said the task force will combat the growing prescription drug abuse in the region. Currently, the only response to prescription abuse is law enforcement and not every case of cross border purchases is illegitimate, said Ingram.
Congress passed a 2005 bill for a national program called NASPER, but never had the funds to implement it.
Seven Counties Services will stop writing new prescriptions for the popular anti-anxiety drug Xanax beginning April 1st.
Doctors and nurse practitioners at the agency will no longer prescribe Xanax for new patients. Patients already on the drug will slowly be moved to other drugs, and after December 31st, no further prescriptions for Xanax will be written for any patient.
Dr. Scott Hedges, senior vice president for medical services at Seven Counties, says he hopes patients will not go elsewhere to get the drug.
“Really our goal is to try to help these individuals get on a path of a healthier lifestyle choice. To get on a path of trying to find alternatives that don’t carry the risk of addiction. They don’t carry the risk of being diverted to misuse in our community, but can still treat their symptoms related to anxiety or panic,” he says.
Hedges says Xanax is the second-most abused prescription medication in Kentucky. He says nearly 2,000 of the agency’s 30,000 patients in Jefferson and surrounding counties are taking Xanax.
A case out of Kentucky that’s made it to the U.S. Supreme Court could affect hundreds of Americans who are currently in prison for charges related to crack cocaine.
The case was brought by William Freeman, who was arrested in Louisville for possession of crack and a loaded firearm. He accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to jail. While he was incarcerated, the federal sentencing guidelines for crack possession were changed, meaning Freeman would be eligible for a lesser sentence. His attempts to have his sentence changed were blocked, though, as courts ruled that he must honor his plea bargain.
The high court heard the case Wednesday. U of L law professor Sam Marcosson read the transcripts of the hearing, and he thinks Freeman has a good chance of winning.
“My expectation would be that Mr. Freeman—although this is somewhat speculative—that Mr. Freeman may get his chance to at least argue for a sentence reduction,” he says.
Marcosson says if the court rules for Freeman, hundreds of other prisoners who took plea deals on crack charges could file to have their sentences reduced. Beyond that, it likely won’t make many waves.
“Only in the broadest of senses in that if it reinforces public perception about the difference between crack cocaine sentences and powder cocaine sentences,” says Marcosson.
Possession of the more-expensive powder cocaine typically carries a lighter sentence than crack possession.