Drug overdose fatalities hit new high with 1,404 deaths in 2016, report says

06/27/2017 01:42 PM

Fatal overdoses in Kentucky have hit a new high with 1,404 deaths reported in 2016, a 7.4 percent increase from the prior year, according to a report by the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy released Tuesday.

Nearly half of overdoses deaths last year involved fentanyl, an opioid medication that’s 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, the report says. That’s up from 34 percent in 2015.

Heroin was also a factor in more overdoses compared to 2015. The drug was detected in 34 percent of overdose deaths in 2016, a 6 percent increase from the prior year, according to the report.

Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or pressed into pill form, and some users aren’t even aware that they’re taking the powerful drug.

“Fentanyl’s impact is really unprecedented,” Ingram said in a statement. “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.”

According to the report, Jefferson County led the state in numerous fatal overdose categories for 2016, including most overall overdose deaths with 364 and the highest increase from the prior year, when 268 succumbed to drug overdoses.

Fayette County finished second with 162 overdose deaths in 2016, and Kenton County, which had the highest year-to-year decrease with 22 fewer overdose fatalities in 2016, finished third overall with 90 fatalities.

The state’s two largest counties also saw the highest of heroin-related and fentanyl-related overdose fatalities.

Jefferson and Fayette counties had 122 and 48 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2016, respectively, followed by Kenton County with 20. Campbell and Boone counties rounded out the top five with 17 and 12 heroin-related fatal overdoses, respectively.

Those same counties also had the most fentanyl-related overdose deaths last year. Jefferson County had 182, Fayette County had 59, Kenton County had 26, Boone County had 25 and Campbell County had 21.

The report notes recent efforts by the state to address the opioid crisis, such as the $22 million budgeted in the current biennial budget to fund anti-drug efforts and House Bill 333, passed by this year’s General Assembly that allows the state to schedule new fentanyl analogues as they emerge and limiting opioid prescriptions to three-day supplies in most cases.

“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 a statement.

“We don’t have the luxury of pretending there isn’t a massive problem. 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.”

The age group most susceptible to overdose fatalities in 2016 was those age 35 to 44, followed by those age 45 to 54. More than 400 35- to 44-year-olds died because of drugs last year, according to the report.

“These are mothers and fathers, veterans, co-workers and friends,” Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley said in a statement. “We are in a daily battle to reach them before we lose them, and we must continue tapping every available resource to confront this problem with both force and compassion.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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