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Bill That Would Ban Kratom, Synthetic Opioids Clears Kentucky Senate

Author: ThorPorre, via Wikimedia Commons

A bill that would increase restrictions on hydrocodone derivatives and ban three other substances in the commonwealth has cleared the Kentucky Senate.

The bill - Senate Bill 136 - was introduced by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville. It would make hydrocodone a Schedule II controlled substance in Kentucky, instead of Schedule III. Westerfield says his bill also increases penalties for the possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs.

“We don’t know where they’re all coming from, we don’t know what’s in them always and what impact and effect they have on the mind and the body and what kind of impairment they can create," Westerfield said. "We’re continuing to see that problem and I think an enhanced penalty is something we should do.”

The bill would ban two synthetic opioids, known as W-18 and W-15 which Westerfield says are not in wide circulation yet in the commonwealth. It also prohibits the Asian plant kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) which Westerfield says has a low potency but can be addictive.

Credit LRC Public Information
State Sen. Whitney Westerfield

  “Our drug court participants in Hopkinsville in Christian County are starting to come up and showing positive for kratom because it’s something they can use that’s not yet illegal, but they’re using that to get by in the place of marijuana which they know they can’t get away with legally," Westerfield said.

Sen. Perry Clark of Louisville, a Democrat, cast the lone dissenting vote against the bill. In a news release issued by the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, Clark cited a University of Mississippi study on whether or not kratom can be used to wean drug addicts off heroin as a reason for voting against the bill.

"We should not be banning this substance," Clark said. "We could be studying this substance."

Westerfield said possessing kratom could carry a penalty of up to 30 days in jail under his legislation. Possession of W-18 or W-15 could carry a maximum of three years in prison. Trafficking those substances would carry a penalty of five to 10 years in prison for a first offense.

The bill now heads to the Kentucky House of Representatives. Westerfield said House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins has introduced a bill which similarly addresses enhanced synthetic penalties, but doesn't mention hydrocodone's classification, kratom or W-18 and W-15. That bill would make trafficking synthetic drugs, currently a Class A misdemeanor, a Class D felony on first offense. Possession would move from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor.

Westerfield said he is hopeful his bill's language could be added to Adkins' House Bill 4. 

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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