- Associated Press - Saturday, September 20, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s increasing heroin problem has become an issue in the state’s contentious U.S. Senate race.

Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign is running radio ads across the state criticizing Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell for not taking a stance on a state bill that would have increased penalties for heroin traffickers. The ad says McConnell thinks solutions only come from Washington.

A McConnell spokeswoman campaign called the ad “a dishonest attack” and noted the Senate Republican leader was named the “Federal Legislator of the Year” by the Kentucky Narcotics’ Officers’ Association earlier this month. And Frank Rapier, a 41-year law enforcement veteran, defended McConnell and said he able to expand a federal anti-drug trafficking program into Jefferson and Hardin counties.

Heroin is a growing problem in Kentucky. Overdose deaths attributed to the drug have increased to 230 in 2013, up from 22 in 2011 - a 945 percent increase in just two years.

Law enforcement and anti-drug officials say a state law making it harder for Kentuckians to get highly addictive prescription painkillers has pushed more people to use heroin. A bill in the state legislature earlier this year would have increased penalties for heroin traffickers while also increasing state spending on drug treatment programs.

But the bill died at midnight on the legislature’s final day amid partisan bickering.

Grimes’ radio ad refers to a comment McConnell made to WFPL in March. Asked whether he supported the state heroin bill, McConnell said “I don’t generally take positions on issues in Frankfort. I work in Washington.”

“Really? He thinks the only solutions come from Washington?” a narrator asks in the 60-second ad. “Alison Lundergan Grimes thinks a good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from or who thought of it, Republican or Democrat.”

McConnell did, however, publicly support another state bill that would have let fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul run for president and re-election to his Senate seat at the same time. That bill, like the heroin bill, did not pass.

The ad accuses McConnell of “playing politics” instead of helping Kentucky families.

“Uninformed probably would be the best way I would describe anybody that would make that statement,” said Rapier, who directs the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

The federal program organizes state, local and federal law enforcement officers into drug task forces whose mission is to track down and arrest high volume drug traffickers. Rapier said the officers have been increasingly targeting the state’s heroin dealers.

Rapier said McConnell used his influence to expand the program to Jefferson and Hardin counties, and added that he is constantly working to expand it into more counties.

“He’s been a champion,” Rapier said. “The leverage he’s got by being in position that he has he can bring people to the table to make so that things get worked out.”

Grimes has also called for expansion of the federal program into more areas of the state along with an increase in federal funding for federal drug treatment and anti-drug trafficking programs.

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