FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) --The Kentucky House took action Friday to fight the state's exploding heroin epidemic, but it will take some compromise before the fight can be taken to the streets.

The House overwhelmingly passed the heroin bill, including the controversial needle exchange program.

“The heroin scourge is an epidemic, a public health nightmare,” said the bill's sponsor, Rep. John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville).

Tilley argued passionately on the House floor that now is the time for lawmakers to act.

"Until we treat it like a public health crisis, we'll be digging out of this until we're all dead and gone,” he said.

It's a personal issue for Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville. Her nephew Wes, who played on the Valley championship Little League team, died of a heroin overdose.

“I don't know if the provisions of House Bill 213 would have saved his life. I'd like to think they would. But I do feel very deeply that they would save so many other lives,” said Jenkins during the floor debate.

The bill calls for tougher sentences for high-level drug dealers and more money for treatment.

But some Republican lawmakers tried to take out the bill's most controversial feature -- a local option needle exchange program.

“I submit to you that the perception of giving free needles to drug abusers sends a bad message to our children,” said Rep. Stan Lee (R – Lexington).

Supporters argued for the health benefits of the needle exchange.

“We are trying to protect children. We are trying to protect adults from being affected or impacted through these dirty needles,” said Rep. Johnny Bell (D-Glasgow).

Members kept the needle exchange and went on to pass the bill 98-0, as the chamber broke out into applause.

The bill was adopted on what would have been Wes Jenkins' 25th birthday.

“It's a part of healing, I think, being proactive. And I hope someday we can say no other families are going to go through this,” Jenkins told WDRB News.

The Senate passed its version of the heroin bill last month. Now a conference committee will try to work out the differences, and produce a final version on which both chambers can agree.

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