February 7, 2011
Spike in Prescription Drug Deaths Roils Kentucky
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
Rx EPIDEMIC: More people died in Kentucky from prescription drug overdoses than from traffic accidents in 2009, according to a comprehensive report by The Courier-Journal of Louisville, using the most recent statistics available. While the epidemic rages, state and federal programs aimed on taking on the problem have seen their funding decline dramatically. The 10-person staff of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, for instance, has dwindled to four. Kentucky annually spends about $7.50 per resident on drug treatment, which is four times less than what some states spend, The Courier-Journal finds.
PRISON SAFETY: Correctional officers frequently warn that prison budget cuts will make their job conditions worse. Prison workers in New York , for example, are calling Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to close some facilities a " direct threat " to their safety because of overcrowding that could result in other places. In Washington State , which is considering $100 million in cuts to prisons, lawmakers now may think twice about the plan after a 34-year-old female correctional officer was found dead in a prison chapel late last month, apparently strangled by an inmate. The prison in question previously experienced layoffs that raised flags about staff safety. One activist tells Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat that she has been sounding the alarm for months over the state's prison budget cuts. "We either got ignored, or ridiculed," Kim Nichols says.
INDIVIDUAL GUN MANDATE: Hoping to draw attention to the individual health insurance mandate at the center of the federal health care law — a provision he strongly opposes — a South Dakota lawmaker has introduced legislation requiring every resident of his state to purchase a gun. The bill is not a serious piece of legislation, as the lawmaker himself notes , but is meant to make a statement about what he sees as the federal government going too far. Both the health insurance mandate and the gun requirement, Representative Hal Wicks believes, "would be overstepping the bounds of (South Dakotans') personal rights."
PAROLE BOARD FIGHT: The Delaware Parole Board is fighting for its life . To save money, Governor Jack Markell and some lawmakers want to eliminate the board and split its duties between the courts and the state corrections department. Markell and others note that the panel's power to release prisoners is already limited, given that Delaware's truth-in-sentencing law abolished parole in 1990 and that the board has authority over only about 250 inmates who were sentenced prior to the change. Board members, however, want to dispense with truth-in-sentencing instead, blasting it as an "ineffective, money-sucking monster" that guarantees inmates will be released on a certain date, rather than giving them motivation to improve their lives-which, they say, is the benefit that the parole system provides.
IMMIGRATION CRACKDOWN: Though they are neighbors, Arizona and New Mexico have long taken different paths on immigration. While Arizona approved the toughest state law against illegal immigration in the country last year, New Mexico still extends driver's licenses and even college scholarships to those in the country illegally, as Stateline has noted . But New Mexico is beginning to crack down. Its new Republican governor, Susana Martinez, has vowed to stop granting licenses to illegal immigrants, and last week she ordered state police to question crime suspects about their immigration status. The latter move prompted an immediate outcry from Democratic legislators, who accused the governor of "pandering to a small minority (of conservatives) outside of our state."