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June 2012
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BOOMERANG Pill mill legislation led to worse problem

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and one unfortunate example has been the rapid rise in heroin abuse after Kentucky and many other states passed laws to crack down on "pill mills" - bogus pain management clinics that freely prescribed addictive pain medications to people whose intent was to abuse them.

Paducah Police Detective Nathan Young said in a story in Saturday's Paducah Sun that heroin busts had been once- or twice-a-year occurrences here in the past, but now they are happening once or twice a month. Sheriffs in Graves and Marshall counties report the drug is on the rise there as well. Paducah has seen several heroin overdose deaths in the past year, and police are currently investigating two more deaths believed to be the result of heroin abuse. Meanwhile, a quick review of Sun files shows at least seven people arrested in our region on heroin charges in the past 90 days.

The Paducah area is by no means alone. Heroin abuse in the northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati has become so prolific it has produced a legislative response to increase penalties for heroin trafficking.

This newspaper was critical of Kentucky's 2012 law to crack down on pill mills. Our objection was that the law as designed would serve mostly to create burdens for legitimately ill people and the medical practices that treat them, while simply driving narcotics abuse deeper underground. It seems to be playing out that way, and in worse fashion than many imagined. As pain pills became less available and more expensive, many addicts turned to a cheaper, readily available, and far more dangerous alternative - heroin.

The Kentucky law, once the regulators got hold of it, ended up extending well beyond pain pills and shady clinics. It was expanded to cover all "scheduled drugs" including insomnia medications widely used by older people as well as many commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs. People being legitimately treated for chronic pain and other long-term illnesses were treated as prison parolees under the new law, being required to submit to periodic urine tests (which in many cases health insurance did not pay for) in order to continue on their medications.

Medical practices meanwhile were required to comply with burdensome new procedures involving filing and cross-checking information in a state database when writing prescriptions for scheduled drugs. Some practices simply stopped writing them.

Feeling the heat, Gov. Steve Beshear and other supporters of the law sought to proclaim it a success three months after adoption, noting that 10 of 44 pain management practices in the state had closed, and prescriptions for pain medication had fallen in the state between 6 and 9 percent.

Our position of course is that the laws existing in 2012 provided plenty of mechanisms to shut down bogus pain practices without turning sick people into presumed felons. Now we have that, along with a far more insidious problem among the state's population of addicts, that being heroin.

It's yet another example of a lesson that lawmakers seem unable to learn, which is that the solution to every problem is not to simply pass another law. Sometimes ill-conceived laws serve only to make a bad situation worse for everyone, and that is what has happened in the wake of Kentucky's 2012 pill mill law.

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