- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

FLORENCE, Ky. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell discussed Kentucky’s growing heroin problem at a meeting with community leaders Friday in Florence.

McConnell’s “heroin listening session” included a panel with northern Kentucky leaders in areas such as law enforcement, education and health care.

“I don’t have to persuade anyone in this room how devastating heroin addiction and abuse is to our commonwealth,” McConnell said. “The state police crime labs jumped up from processing 451 samples of heroin in 2011 to 2,382 in just the first nine months of 2013. That’s an increase of over 400 percent in just two years.”

Included in the panel was state Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, who has introduced legislation this year in the Kentucky General Assembly to address the problem.

“Talking about this issue accomplishes part of what we’re trying to do with the bill, which is to get this information out,” Stine said. “As evidenced by the people in this room, it’s going to take a multilevel approach. It’s going to take partnership between law enforcement, education and treatment.”

Stine said she has been working closely with officials and community members in southern Ohio in her efforts to build a bill that would include what she called a three-pronged approach to slowing heroin addiction.

Stine’s measure would stiffen penalties for those convicted of heroin possession by lowering the quantity necessary to charge a person with drug trafficking. The bill would then appropriate money from drug convictions to fund rehabilitation programs for addicts.

Mac McArthur, executive director of the nonprofit substance abuse treatment organization Transitions, said the region gets the least funds for drug abuse treatment but that has the greatest need for such programs.

“Locally, there’s a lack of certified physicians for medically assisted treatment,” McArthur said. “We’re not going to solve these issues with four or five days of managed care. It won’t work. It takes time. And we have a lot less than Louisville, and a lot less than Lexington.”

“We’ve been underfunded up here for over 15 years,” he said. “We are the lowest on the state’s totem pole for drug and alcohol funding. In northern Kentucky right now, we are short at least 300 beds for adults and 32 beds for adolescents.”

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