Beshear, Stumbo credit law for reducing prescription-drug deaths, but reduction was far outnumbered by rise in heroin fatalities

UPDATE: Final, revised data show that prescription-drug deaths in Kentucky actually increased slightly, from 1,022 in 2011 to 1,031 in 2,012, according to the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center. Heroin-related deaths rose from 42 in 2011 to 129 in 2012, a smaller increase than preliminary data showed but still a rise of 307 percent.

Deaths from prescription-drug abuse in Kentucky declined last year for the first time in a decade, and top state officials are crediting a law passed by that year’s General Assembly.

However, passage of the law has prompted many drug users to switch to heroin, and the increase in heroin deaths (121) was much larger than the decline in prescription-drug fatalities (19).

“Autopsied overdose deaths attributed to the use of heroin increased 550 percent over the previous year, from 22 in 2011 to 143 cases in 2012,” a release from Gov. Steve Beshear’s office said. The decline in prescription-drug deaths was 1.9 percent, from 1,023 to 1,004, but the release said nothing else about the new problem and did not link it to the 2012 law that cracked down on abuse of prescription drugs.

“The impact of this bill can’t be measured just in the numbers of pills
we’ve kept off the streets,” Beshear said in the release. “This bill, I believe, has literally saved
lives in Kentucky.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said, “I’m proud of the results, and the fact that other states are following our lead. Our goal now is to build on these gains and to improve access to treatment, so that abusers can truly escape this deadly cycle once and for all.”

The first quote in John Cheves’ Lexington Herald-Leader story came from Van Ingram, executive director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, which the new law required to begin publishing annual reports on drug overdose fatalities in the state: “There’s no great victories here. I’m glad that we’re at least seeing a leveling off and some small decline. I’ve been in this job for nine years and have watched a steady rise in numbers that whole time.”

Top counties: Leslie, Clinton, Clay, Estill, Floyd, Nicholas, Perry, Whitley, Monroe (Herald-Leader)

The law, known as House Bill 1 before Beshear signed it, required pain-management clinics to be owned by a licensed medical provider, required all drug prescribers to register with a state monitoring system, and reduced the number of prescriptions for heavily abused controlled substances, a release from the governor’s office said.

“Since the law was passed, 20 non-physician-owned pain management facilities have closed,” the release said. The “Cabinet for Health and Family Services has issued cease-and-desist letters to another four pain management facilities operating outside the scope of state regulations.”

“Of the 1,004 overdose fatalities in
2012, 888 were found to be unintentional, 59 were suicides and 57 remain
undetermined,” the release said. “Alprazolam (Xanax) remained the
most-detected controlled substance in overdose deaths, present in 41 percent of all autopsied cases. Morphine was found in 32
percent of autopsies, followed by hydrocodone at 26 percent and oxycodone at 24

“Autopsies often found more than one drug present,” Cheves notes. “The youngest overdose fatality was 16; the oldest was 72. Slightly more than half of the victims were men. Leslie County (population 11,170) reported the state’s top per-capita
rate of an annualized 85 fatal overdoses for every 100,000 people. The
county had 11 overdose deaths in 2012, up from eight the previous year. In
descending order, the other leading counties were Clinton, Clay, Estill,
Floyd, Nicholas, Perry, Whitley, Monroe and Magoffin.” (Read more)

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