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Local News Politics

Meth Debate Picks Up as General Assembly Nears

State lawmakers heard a variety of opinions on how to limit methamphetamine production today.

The number of meth labs in Kentucky has been increasing for years. The drug manufacturer group Consumer Healthcare Products told the Joint Committee on the Judiciary the state should create a database of people who have been convicted of meth-related crimes. Those listed would be blocked from purchasing cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, which is used to make meth.

Several law enforcement officers, however, say pseudoephedrine should become a scheduled substance, meaning anyone seeking to purchase it would need a prescription.

Oregon and Mississippi have both reported success after making pseudoephedrine prescription-only.

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Louisville Metro EMS Will Drug Test Staff

Louisville Metro EMS has responded to the recent mishandling of medication by two EMS employees. Now, the agency said it plans on adding an extra level of accountability.

Metro EMS wants to prevent this from ever happening again, said Dr. Neal Richmond, executive director of Louisville Metro EMS.

In the next 30 to 45 days the agency will test all of its employees for drugs in their system, he said. EMS employees are already subject to random sampling, but Richmond said he wants his agency to set an example.

“We want to lock down the field side of it to the extent that anybody who has a problem out there we’re going to offer help. But as I said you can’t work here if there is any question about potential abuse of prescription medications or any other controlled substance,” said Richmond.

Metro EMS and the local Teamsters union are still working on the guidelines that all 250 EMS employees will comply with.

If an EMS employee is abusing medication they can self-report to the agency and, by law, Metro EMS must respect that.

“It’s not a good idea to have an accident and for somebody to find drugs on board. On the other hand if you come forward and you say I’ve been having a problem and I’m taking some drugs that I shouldn’t be, then we have to respect that and get those people to the right treatment.”

Richmond says employees that self-report will be subject to suspension or leave depending on the circumstances. They can also seek support or counseling through Metro Government, he said.

But in recent cases Metro EMS employees did not report their problem, said Richmond.

Metro EMS will also work with Metro Police to make tracking and handling medication more secure, he said.

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Louisville Metro EMS Responds to Recent Activity

Louisville Metro EMS is changing the way it tracks and handles patient medications. This comes after two EMS employees were accused of mishandling drugs. Now the agency will tighten its processes in response, but will still rely on the trust of its employees.

When EMS personnel prescribe medication to a patient, employees are expected to comply with certain protocols to prevent misuse. While the ability to prescribe medication is regulated through the DEA, it’s up to the individual agencies to track and monitor these prescriptions, said Dr. Neal Richmond, director of Louisville Metro EMS.

“How we track and monitor that is an internal process. What I can say is as a result of this case, and identifying that this did indeed happen, we don’t want this to ever happen again. We’re going to make this as airtight and watertight as we can for the future,” said Richmond.

The agency will seek the help of the Louisville Metro Police Department to further regulate EMS protocols. Richmond said he met with Metro PD on Monday and the new protocols will include an extra level of security to prevent further misuse of patient medications.

Richmond wants Metro PD to help regulate the process because the agency regularly deals with discarding narcotics, he said. Metro EMS is treating the situation with urgency and an agreement is likely to be reached soon, said Richmond.

But, the new protocols will still be subject to some level of trust.

“You try the best you can to lock these things down. There’s always an element of trust. In this case there was an egregious breach of trust. It’s something we take to heart. We investigated this very aggressively (and) we’re going to continue to investigate,” said Richmond.

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Kentucky and Ohio Sharing Prescription Information

by Brenna Angel, Kentucky Public Radio

What started out as a program to track where patients get their prescription drugs in Kentucky has expanded to Ohio.

This week the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system, or KASPER, launched a data exchange with the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System, or OARRS. So far, 12 Kentucky physicians are testing the program.

“The fact that that pilot’s up, running, and we’ve got users sharing data means that we’ve made a huge advance in being able to take this statewide between Ohio and Kentucky and to start bringing other states on board so that we’re all sharing,” says KASPER manager Dave Hopkins.

Now a doctor or pharmacist in Kentucky can check if their patient has been prescribed drugs in Ohio without logging on to a different network. That should make it easier to drug abusers who go to multiple doctors for medication.

Hopkins plans to continue the pilot for about one or two months before expanding it to other KASPER users across the state.

Prescription drug abuse is rampant in parts of Kentucky, and many of the drugs are purchased in other states. Hopkins says a meeting is scheduled for next Thursday to discuss possibilities for a single software interface that could be used nationwide.

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Local News Politics

Supreme Court Rules for Kentucky Man, With Caveat

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Kentucky man facing a nearly nine-year prison sentence for crack cocaine charges is eligible to have his sentence reduced.

William Freeman agreed to the sentence in a plea deal, which was based on the sentencing guidelines for crack. When those guidelines changed, Freeman tried to have his sentence shortened, but was told he had to follow his plea deal.

A majority five justices ruled in Freeman’s favor. Four of those five said anyone who takes a plea deal should be eligible for a shorter sentence if guidelines change. But the fifth was Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She ruled that only convicts whose plea deals state they are based on sentencing guidelines should be eligible.

“The case really does position Justice Sotomayor, at least in criminal matters, as part of the court’s center,” says U of L Professor Sam Marcosson. “Both the government and defense lawyers will have to think carefully about how to appeal to her and make careful arguments.

Marcosson says Sotomayor’s opinion significantly reduces the scope of the high court’s decision. Rather than affecting potentially thousands of prisoners, it will likely affect hundreds.

Freeman may again request a shorter sentence. If he does, the case will be heard at the federal courthouse in Louisville.

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Local News Politics

Retroactive Fair Sentencing Act Enforcement Likely Won’t Affect Kentucky Case

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is pushing for criminals serving jail time or possession of crack cocaine to have their sentences reduced, but his efforts are unlikely to affect one of the most famous local cases involving crack cocaine.

Holder’s recommendation is related to the Fair Sentencing Act. Previously, possession of the more expensive powder form of cocaine carried a lighter penalty than possession of crack. Holder argues that anyone sentenced under the harsher guidelines should have the chance to serve less time.

The Supreme Court recently heard a case out of Kentucky involving many of the same issues. It was brought by William Freeman, who took a plea deal for crack possession and was unable to have his sentence shortened under the Fair Sentencing Act.

But the nature of Freeman’s case sets it apart from Holder’s recommendation, since Freeman has been previously ordered to serve out the sentence negotiated in his plea deal. Further, Freeman was in possession of a loaded firearm, and Holder’s recommendation does not apply to certain convicts, including those serving time on gun charges.

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Local News Uncategorized

Ohio Police Chief Discusses Appalachian Pill Pipeline on Diane Rehm

Portsmouth, Ohio Chief of Police Charles Horner was among the guests discussing prescription drug abuse on the Diane Rehm show today. You can listen to it here.

Horner says prescription overdose death’s in Ohio’s Scioto County have quadrupled in the last few years. Ohio Governor John Kasich recently met with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to discuss prescription abuse.

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Beshear and Other Governors Working Together to Fight Prescription Abuse

by Dan Conti, Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Ohio Governor John Kasich  met today to discuss their states’ efforts to fight prescription drug abuse.

Many of the prescription drugs abused in eastern Kentucky and neighboring regions come from Florida. Kasich says the governors must come together to stop the so-called pill pipeline that brings prescriptions to the area.

“We’re going to work with the Governor of Kentucky, the Governor of West Virginia, I’ve already talked to the Governor of Florida,” he says. “Winning the battle against opiates, which destroys so many of our families, has to be won.”

The meeting comes the week after Beshear and Florida Governor Rick Scott testified on the issue in Congress. Scott began the year with plans to block a system for tracking prescriptions in Florida, but has since reversed his stance. The White House Drug Czar has called on state and federal officials to work harder to stop prescription drug abuse. The federal plan to curb illegal prescriptions focuses on education, law enforcement and prescription tracking systems like the one in Kentucky, and the one proposed in Florida.

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Local News Politics

Florida Governor Reverses on Prescription Tracking Program

Florida Governor Rick Scott says he will support a compromise to implement a prescription pill tracking system in his state.

Scott originally sought to block a prescription database from being used, citing privacy concerns. The system is meant to stop illegal prescription sales. Because Floridian pill mills are a major supplier of prescription drugs abused in Kentucky and elsewhere, Scott came under fire from numerous state and federal officials to let the program take effect. Instead, Scott proposed using a grant from the federal government to create a law enforcement task force to fight the prescription problem.

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“Freeway” Rick Ross Discusses Economics on Planet Money

Former drug kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross visited Louisville in February to talk about his past work and his message to younger generations. This week, he appeared on NPR’s Planet Money podcast to discuss the economics of drug dealing. Hosts Alex Blumberg and Robert Smith run a series of scholarly ideas past Ross, and they find that while many economic theories are likely correct, the research doesn’t always match reality.

Economists say that people demand a “risk premium” to do illegal, risky work. But it didn’t feel that way to Ross:

“When you come from where I was when I started selling drugs, you feel hopeless. You don’t think you’re going to live past 24 years old. Go to jail, come out with stripes. Really wasn’t any risk

“Everything I had going on at the time, it was nothing. I was like a lump on a log. The risk most people would look at — you could get killed, go to prison — was Ok.”