Legislators vow to fight fentanyl during committee meeting

by Nancy Royden, Legislative Research Commission

FRANKFORT — The Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection heard impassioned testimony Tuesday from those who lost loved ones to fentanyl, and some lawmakers vowed to continue fighting the drug through legislation.

Three women involved with The Never Alone Nick Rucker Foundation – a nonprofit group formed to warn the public about the dangers of fentanyl, end stigma and change laws – told legislators about the devastating impact of fentanyl on their families.

One legislator who accompanied the women, Rep. Candy Massaroni, R-Bardstown, described fentanyl as a ticking time bomb in Kentucky’s neighborhoods, school and workplaces.

“Today, we just want to address an issue. It’s a heart-wrenching issue that’s affecting every community across the nation and especially Kentucky. It’s the deadly impact of the drug cartels who are peddling not only illegal narcotics, but a hidden danger – fentanyl,” she said.

Tami Boblitt said she struggled to find treatment for her son, Chase, who died from an overdose in June 2021. Boblitt said they went to six treatment facilities in one day and were turned away for a multitude of reasons.

“The stigma is terrible. I was treated poorly. Chase was treated poorly. Even the places where we were going to for help, we were treated very poorly,” she said. “So we’re just trying to raise awareness. We want people to understand we’re normal people. These things happen to lots of families.”

Boblitt is supporting a proposal called Chase’s Law, which seeks to reduce stigma and provide people with a safe place to recover after they receive Narcan, an anti-overdose drug.

While she said jail is not the answer, a 72-hour hold or similar intervention would help prevent deaths that can occur even after someone becomes alert and seems to be much better, she argued.

Another mother, Ashley Green, testified about her 3-year old son’s fentanyl-related death and her own struggles with drug use.

Green said her son was exposed while in a house with four people, one of whom had fentanyl. Nobody has admitted they had the drug, and laws are too weak to provide justice, she added.

“He did not do fentanyl. He did not come across this, you know, on his own. An adult in that house had it, and nobody’s going to be prosecuted for that. That’s not fair to him or his life, nor his purpose. He came to save me from addiction,” she said.

Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, who served with the Kentucky State Police for 22 years, said the legislature had a “great opportunity” to be more stringent regarding fentanyl dealers two years ago, but legislation didn’t pass.

“They ought to have to serve jail time. We’ve become so soft in this country on people who are killing our people,” he said.

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, who also worked for KSP, said those who sell drugs to support their habit are still dealers. He said he’s working with Rep. Deanna Frazier Gordon, R-Richmond, on legislation that would toughen drug-related penalties.

“If you provide drugs to somebody and they lose their life, then you ought to be charged with murder, period, because you’re responsible for their death,” he said.

Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, said he encourages committee members to support state funding for the 11 drug task forces in Kentucky. He said not funding them amply is costing lives and this should be addressed during the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

“You would think all of them have their own radios to operate within a drug task force. They do not. You would think that every one of the 11 drug force task teams have the technology necessary to survey, monitor and protect their communities. They do not,” he said.

Photo: Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, speaking on fentanyl. (LRC PIO)