Several bills pre-filed by local lawmakers ahead of the Kentucky General Assembly's regular session next month deal with either drug use among recipients of state and federal funds, or limiting access to illegal drugs.
A new version of District 36 Rep. Lonnie Napier's amendment requiring drug testing for people seeking public assistance, including food stamps, has been submitted for consideration after a similar bill was killed in committee previously. He said he expects a different outcome once the legislature returns Jan. 3.
Under the new portion of the law, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services would be tasked with implementing a screening program, under which a caseworker would test someone during their initial interview or during subsequent visits based only on suspicion of drug use.
Prohibited drugs include all Schedule 1 substances, which range from marijuana to heroin, and any Schedule 2-5 substances not prescribed by a physician. Both parents in a two-parent family would be required to undergo screenings to receive benefits and applicants would bear the cost of screenings and be reimbursed if they passed a test.
Applicants must consent to the testing to be eligible for benefits. If someone fails a test, they would have 60 days to enter a drug treatment program and prove they are not on drugs, then would be subject to random tests twice in the next two years. Someone who tests positive after their 60 day "grace period” would have two weeks to enroll in a treatment program.
Napier (R-Lancaster) said treatment would be funded with public dollars, which he said will be worth it when compared to the annual cost of keeping someone behind bars.
One of the criticisms Napier's legislation faced the last time was the potential price tag of drug screening for individuals applying for programs like Medicaid.
This time, Napier is basing his claim of lower costs on the fact that testing will not be randomized and will also include a questionnaire as an alternative to blood or urine testing. Napier said there are questionnaires that have proven 89-95 percent affective in determining someone's drug use.
Others were not happy with the potential of children going hungry because their parents were being punished. In the new version, Napier points out that parents or guardians can designate another person to receive and administer benefits for a minor. That person would also have to undergo testing.
Napier said he hears frequently from people in his district about ways in which some benefits are abused and even bartered for drug money. Despite those who voice ethical or civil liberty arguments against the plan, Napier said it is not intended to be a negative for individuals or families.
"I am not trying to hurt anyone at all," Napier said. "I'm trying to help people get off drugs and get families away from drugs. In some cases we are helping them buy illegal drugs."
Napier said states across the country have inquired about his legislation, with many passing similar laws and he expects to have even stronger support in 2012.
"People realize something's got to be done," Napier said. "I had 56 co-sponsors last time and I don't think we'll have any trouble getting that many this time."
District 14 Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon), whose district includes Mercer County, has pre-filed a bill requiring pre-screening for vocational education training, as well as one establishing new requirements for pain management clinics. Those are just two among the nine pieces of legislation proposed by perhaps the busiest lawmaker pre-session.
Higdon's substance abuse bill would require screenings for all adults getting vocational training provided or funded by the state. The same substances would be prohibited and blood, urine and questionnaires would all be accepted as methods for detecting abuse.
Someone who tests positive or is deemed to be a substance abuser would be ineligible for vocational programs provided or funded by the state for 90 days, and a year after each subsequent failed screening.
The screening legislation has as much or more to do with what will happen after an individual completes their training, Higdon said.
"When you are looking for a job, 90 percent of them these days are going to require some kind of testing."
Another one of Higdon's bills would take on so-called "pill mills," or pain management clinics that hand out prescriptions for pain medications with scant evidence of need from patients. Many of those drugs end up sold on the street, Higdon said.
In addition to making a strict definition of what a pain management clinic is, the bill would require someone starting a clinic to go through the certificate of need process and to be specifically licensed.
Clinics would have to be physician owned and the physician would have to have valid licensure and be in current good standing with the licensure board. All employees at such clinics would be required to undergo background checks. Hospitals would be exempt from the regulation.
Higdon, who lives in Lebanon, was aware of the problem with prescription drugs, but didn't get involved until the issue literally hit home for him last summer.
A woman from Marion County who now lives in Olive Hill in eastern Kentucky called him to say she saw a quarter-page advertisement in the local paper for a pain clinic in Lebanon. At first, Higdon scoffed at the idea because there were no pain clinics in town, but then he said he got another call from eastern Kentucky.
After getting an address, Higdon said he discovered there was a clinic operating in the Lebanon Trade Center basically providing phony MRI results and prescriptions in exchange for $200. After local pressure, including a series of newspaper reports, the clinic was gone in a matter of weeks, Higdon said.
Although such clinics are increasingly looked at with suspicion, Higdon said he doesn't want to use too broad a brush.
"There are good clinics, especially in some hospitals," Higdon said. "We just need to weed out the bad actors that are keeping these underground pipelines full of drugs."
There is similar legislation being proposed during the regular session, so Higdon is not sure whether it will be his version or some amalgamation of his bill and other ideas that is ultimately voted on. However, he expects the issue will be addressed and something to be passed early in the session.