FRANKFORT – A state Senator described a cat-and-mouse game between police and drug dealers in explaining the need for a controlled substances law he introduced during the 2016 General Assembly.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said law enforcement is constantly trying to keep up with new substances drug dealers are peddling to addicts chasing an ever more powerful and cheaper high. His measure, Senate Bill 136, would increase controls on the semi-synthetic opioid hydrocodone and prohibit three other substances not currently addressed by existing laws – the plant “kratom” and the synthetic opioids known on the street as W-18 and W-15.
“We continue to see synthetic drugs being used and abused and showing up in courts around the Commonwealth,” said Westerfield, a former prosecutor. “Some of these are fairly tame but some of them are much more serious causing people to do strange things.”
After Westerfield’s explanation of the measure, SB 136 passed the state Senate by a 35-1-1 vote on Thursday.
Sen. Perry B. Clark, D- Louisville, said he cast the lone “no” vote because he was concerned about a prohibition on kratom. Clark characterized kratom, known by the scientific name of Mitragyna speciosa, as an herbal supplement.
“Most people in this body do not even know what kratom is,” said Clark, who unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill so it wouldn’t include kratom. “It is an herb. It comes from Asia. It has been around for thousands and thousands of years.”
He said the University of Mississippi is studying whether kratom can be used to wean drug addicts off heroin.
“We should not be banning this substance,” Clark said. “We could be studying this substance.”
Westerfield agreed that kratom was a plant but added it can sometimes be combined with synthetic drugs and abused.
“Its potency is relative low but we are starting to see it in Kentucky, particularly back in Hopkinsville where our drug court participants are using it as an alternative to things they are not allowed to use any more,” Westerfield said. “There is some concern if you use enough of kratom … that it can be habit forming.”
He said possessing kratom would carrying a penalty of up to 30 days.
Clark didn’t object to prohibiting W-18 and W-15 which Westerfield said were “far more dangerous.”
“They are hundreds, if not thousands, of times more potent and powerful than fentanyl,” said Westerfield, adding that fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic often prescribed to terminal cancer patients but sometimes abused by heroin addicts.
Possession of any amount of W-18 and W-15 would carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Trafficking W-18 and W-15 would carry a penalty of five years to 10 years in prison for a first offense. The penalties would go up for subsequent offenses.
SB 136 now goes to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.