House panel OKs bill to combat synthetic drugs


By Bruce Schreiner - Associated Press



FRANKFORT (AP) — One man tried to cut down a tree in his backyard because he thought law officers were hiding in it. Another was held in isolation because he was sure someone was trying to kill him.

Their bouts of extreme paranoia were caused by flakka, a synthetic designer drug gaining a foothold in Lewis County, a sheriff said Wednesday as Kentucky lawmakers advanced a bill to combat the drug.

The drug, highly potent and addictive, causes “off-the-wall behavior,” Lewis County Sheriff Johnny Bivens told the House Judiciary Committee.

“In my 18 years, I think this is the worst drug I’ve ever seen,” the sheriff said.

The legislation represents the latest fight in an ongoing campaign to combat Kentucky’s drug addiction woes. In past years, the focus was on heroin, methamphetamine and prescription pill abuse.

Some lawmakers expressed frustration Wednesday that once they enact a law to curb an illicit drug, a new type of drug surfaces. Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, called it a “whack-a-mole” approach.

The latest measure, sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, would toughen penalties for trafficking or possessing synthetic drugs such as flakka. The stiffest penalties would be for traffickers.

First-time traffickers of synthetic drugs would face a felony conviction and jail sentence of one to five years. Currently, a first offense is a misdemeanor punishable to up to a year in jail.

Repeat offenders would face up to five to 10 years in prison under the proposal.

The bill also seeks to crack down on sales to minors. Adults convicted of selling synthetic drugs to youngsters would face five to 10 years in prison for a first offense and 10 to 20 years for repeat offenses.

“We believe that if we attack it from the trafficking side that we can really deter these types of drugs from being in our communities,” said Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.

People caught possessing synthetic drugs also could face more jail time. A first offense could result in up to a year in jail, compared to the current 30-day maximum. Repeat offenses could lead to one to three years in jail. Adkins expressed support for drug treatment for people facing possession charges.

The bill would lead to higher corrections costs for the state, but efforts to protect communities and families from the scourge of synthetic drugs far outweigh those costs, Adkins said.

Adkins predicted the bill could reach the House floor for a vote within the next week.

Much of the discussion focused on the threats posed by flakka.

Sometimes referred to as the “devil’s drug,” flakka can cause delirium, paranoia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and heart failure. It can be snorted, eaten, injected or vaporized.

The drug fetches about $250 per gram on average in his area of northern Kentucky, Bivens said.

The sheriff said his department confiscated about five pounds of flakka in a six-month period ending in mid-2015. Nearly 30 people were arrested for alleged crimes while under the drug’s influence, he said.

“Some of the things we witnessed were horrific, heartbreaking but most importantly they were misdemeanors,” he said.

The Senate is working on its own version of legislation to combat synthetic drugs.

The House legislation is House Bill 4.

By Bruce Schreiner

Associated Press

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