Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Number of drug overdose deaths in Kentucky continues to rise: 1,404 in 2016, a 7.4 percent increase from 2015

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky saw a 7.4 percent increase in drug-overdose deaths in 2016, largely driven by heroin and a synthetic opioid called fentanyl that is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin and is often mixed with other drugs, according to a state report.

Lexington Herald-Leader maps
Of the 1,404 overdose deaths that occurred in Kentucky in 2016, almost half (623) involved fentanyl and one-third (456) of them involved heroin, according to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy report.

“Fentanyl’s impact is really unprecedented,” Van Ingram, executive director of the ODCP, said in a news release. “Users have no way of knowing what drugs they are taking, and even the smallest amounts can trigger a lethal reaction. We’ve seen cases where a bad batch of drugs has led to dozens of overdoses in a single community overnight.”

Ingram added that while a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose called Naloxone is now widely available in Kentucky, he said it is not always effective against fentanyl and often requires several doses to revive the victim.

Three of the top five counties for the highest number of overdose deaths per person were in Eastern Kentucky -- Leslie, Bell and Powell -- along with Gallatin and Campbell counties in Northern Kentucky.

The top five counties for heroin related overdose deaths, fentanyl-related deaths and deaths involving both heroin and fentanyl were all in the state's most densely populated areas: Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Campbell and Boone.

Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths at 364, up from 268 in 2015;  followed by Fayette County at 162, up from 141 in 2015. Kenton County saw the largest decrease in overdose deaths, dropping to 90 deaths in 2016 from 112 in 2015. Bell and Knox counties also saw significant declines in overdose deaths, both by half. Click here for county-by-county data.

“Nearly every community in Kentucky experienced a fatal drug overdose last year— if that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is,” Gov. Matt Bevin said in the release. “We don't have the luxury of pretending there isn't a massive problem."

2016 Kentucky overdose
deaths by age group 
The report found that Kentuckians between the ages of 35 and 44 died most frequently of a drug overdose, followed by those aged 45 to 54. More than 400 Kentuckians in the 35 to 44 age group died in 2016 from a drug overdose and more than 300 died in the 45 to 54 age group.

The report also showed that the number of deaths involving prescription painkillers decreased. Oxycodone was detected in 19 percent of deaths, down 4 percent since 2015, and hydrocodone was detected in 16 percent of deaths, down 5 percent. Alprazolam, or Xanax, a benzodiazepine, was detected in 26 percent of the deaths.

Ingram said Kentucky is taking a multi-faceted approach to battle the opioid epidemic: "Government, healthcare, law enforcement -- we are all working furiously to save lives," he said.

Most recently, a law just went into effect that gives the state the ability to schedule new fentanyl derivatives as they arrive on the street, increase penalties for drug dealers and limit the number of painkillers that can be prescribed for acute pain to three days, with some exceptions.  The state has also increased funding toward anti-drug efforts -- $14.7 million in 2016, $15.7 million in 2017 and rising to $16.3 million for fiscal year 2018.

"The consequences of the opioid crisis are far-reaching, affecting every corner of our communities. We must stand united against the opioid scourge and work together to find solutions. Failure is not an option," Bevin said.

In a June 27 Facebook Live video, the governor announced a public service campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of opioids. The campaign website ,, says Kentucky has the third highest drug overdose rate in the U.S.

Data for the report was compiled from the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office, the Kentucky Injury Prevention & Research Center and the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics.

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