Uptick in fentanyl use sparks rise in lethal overdoses, according to report

06/14/2016 08:06 PM

A powerful painkiller is helping fuel the increase of drug overdose deaths in 2015, according to a report filed Tuesday by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

The 2015 Overdose Fatality Report found that lethal overdoses in Kentucky rose from 1,088 in 2014 to 1,248 last year, a 16 percent increase.

The points of the state’s so-called “golden triangle” saw the most overdose deaths, led by the 255 who died of overdose in Jefferson County last year, up from 204 in 2014.

Fayette County had the second-highest overdose fatalities with 141 last year, up from 112 in 2014, followed by 112 in Kenton County, which reported 71 overdose deaths in 2014. The two other northernmost counties — Boone and Campbell — rounded out the top five with 62 and 43 fatal overdoses in 2015, respectively.

Officials pointed to fentanyl, an opiate painkiller that can be mixed with heroin, as a primary factor in the uptick in lethal overdoses. The drug was detected in 420 overdose deaths last year compared to 121 instances in 2014 — a 247 percent increase — and contributed to 34 percent of fatal overdoses in 2015, according to a news release.

“The introduction of illicit fentanyl into the heroin trade is producing devastating results,” Van Ingram, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said in a statement. “Whether it’s manufactured to resemble heroin or a prescription pill, the cartels have made an already dangerous situation worse.”

Heroin contributed to about 28 percent of overdose deaths last year, and the death toll rose this year due to the wider use of fentanyl, according to the release.

Jefferson County led the state with 131 heroin-related deaths in 2015 while Kenton County topped lists of counties with the most deaths due to fentanyl and heroin-fentanyl cocktails with 53 and 21 fatalities last year, respectively.

The 2015 Overdose Fatality Report can be downloaded here: 2015 Overdose Fatality Report.pdf

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.