Kentucky facing drug enforcement changes, prison growth issues, and possible solutions to drug crime

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US Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that he plans to implement a new drug enforcement administration division to oversee states hard-hit by the opioid epidemic like Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The division will help law enforcement fight illicit drug trafficking in Appalachia.

In addition, 12 million dollars in grants will be awarded to law enforcement in states dealing with serious opioid problems.

Grants will also go to state agencies that have seized drug chemicals and labs.

Kentucky's opioid crisis has led to many users turning to harder drugs - some of which may be used intravenously. An increase in intravenous drug use and needle sharing has led to an "epidemic" of Hepatitis C according to Dr. Ardis Hoven of the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

The CDC, in 2015, noted that Kentucky's rate of Hep. C was more than double the national average. The Kentucky Department of Public Health says that between 2008 and 2015 Kentucky had the highest incidence of new Hep. C cases in the nation.

Many people advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana as an alternative to prescribing drugs which are currently used for treating patients in extreme pain. These same advocates also claim that another side effect of legalizing medical marijuana is that patients who would normally be prescribed painkillers would be less likely to start abusing harder drugs if they were prescribed marijuana instead.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is pushing for medical marijuana legalization, encouraging cities and counties to endorse such legislation. Grimes hopes for local officials to pave the way to legal marijuana use for medical purposes.

"It's clear momentum is building for medical cannabis in Kentucky. I challenge our local officials in cities and counties across the Commonwealth to join in the effort to bring relief to thousands of Kentuckians who suffer daily – their own citizens," Grimes said. "This affects people in every county and corner of the state. Local officials should step up for their constituents to support medical cannabis legislation in the General Assembly in 2018. We can't leave our people who are hurting behind."

Making marijuana legal could, in theory, help with another problem our state is facing.

Kentucky's inmate population has made state prisons full to bursting.

“We’ve reached a critical point that demands fiscal prudence and stronger accountability for both offenders and government,” says Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley, "The good news is we have an opportunity to lower costs and improve public safety if we enact common-sense legislation next year. It’s time to bring stability and efficacy to our justice system.”

Secretary Tilley chairs the CJPAC Justice Reinvestment Work Group, which expects that the state's inmate population is on track to increase by nearly 20 percent over the next decade, overwhelming prisons and jails costing taxpayers more than $600 million.

And a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that 13% of Kentucky children have a parent in jail. That's the highest rate in
the country.

65% of prison admissions are sentenced for drug and property offenses. In 2010, law enforcement across the state reported 6,540 arrests for marijuana possession which accounts for about 32% of all drug arrests in 2010 according to the ACLU.

The 2016 Overdose Fatality Report by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy found that 1,404 people died from drug overdoses that year. It also found a 7.4% increase over 2015 and that the usage of fentanyl is contributing to overdose deaths.

Attorney General Sessions has not released a timeline for his changes to the D.E.A.. Secretary of State Grimes hopes to see marijuana legislation in 2018.

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