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As Kentucky begins to see results from its crackdown on prescription drug abuse, officials report a rise in heroin use.

Earlier this year, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed into law a bill aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse. The law requires that all pain clinics be licensed, specifies requirements for ownership and employment, and obliges Kentucky’s licensure board to develop regulations for pain clinics. It gives law enforcement easier access to the state’s prescription drug monitoring database. Doctors must examine patients, take full medical histories, and check electronic prescription records before writing prescriptions for opioids.

“There’s always some type of drug to step up when another gets taken out,” said Dan Smoot, Law Enforcement Director of Operation UNITE, which combats substance abuse in Kentucky. “We didn’t know it was going to be heroin. We knew something was going to replace pills.”

Law enforcement officials say heroin is imported from Mexico and Central America, according to the Associated Press. It is cheaper and more easily available than prescription opioids, such as oxycodone. Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, told the AP that a single oxycodone pill can cost between $80 and $100, compared with $15 to $20 for a bag of heroin.

The rise in heroin use as a result of prescription drug abuse is part of a national trend.


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