Drug overdose deaths rose 7.6 percent in Kentucky last year

Kentucky had a 7.6 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2014, while the number of deaths attributed to heroin stayed the same, according to the state’s 2014 Overdose Fatality Report.

The report, issued by the Office of Drug Control Policy, said 1,087 people died from an overdose in 2014, up from 1,010 in 2013. Heroin overdoses remained constant, with 233 deaths in 2014, compared with 230 in 2013. Kentucky had 22 deaths attributed to heroin in 2011.

Officials noted that the number of heroin deaths could actually be higher because of the high rate of morphine found in the victims.

“When heroin metabolizes inside someone’s body, it leaves behind morphine and 6-monoacetylmorphine,” Ingram explained to Adam Beam of The Associated Press. “If medical examiners find both, they attribute the death to heroin. But if they only fine morphine, they can’t be certain.”

However, Dr. Tracey Corey, Kentucky’s chief medical examiner, cautioned that some of those cases may involve only morphine, rather than heroin, so conclusions should be drawn with care.

Most overdose victims had multiple drugs in their system, says the report. Morphine was found in 40.9 percent, followed by cannabinoids at 35.7 percent, heroin at 28.8 percent, ethanol at 28.2 percent, alprazolam (Xanax) at 26.8 percent, hydrocodone at 21 percent and oxycodone at 19 percent.

The top seven overdose death rates by county for 2014 were (per 100,000 population):
1. Floyd County, 55.1
2. Pike County, 50.8
3. Campbell County, 47.9
4. Kenton County, 43.3
5. Boone County, 38.0
6. Fayette County, 36.6
7. McCracken County, 30.6

The increase in overdose deaths “demonstrates the pervasive grip and cyclical nature of addiction,” Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said in a news release. “Fortunately, we’ve recently put in place some changes that we hope will bring the number of deaths back down in 2015.”

In March, the legislature passed Senate Bill 192, which includes measures that could decrease these outcomes in years to come including needle-exchange programs (with local option); allocation of money for drug-treatment programs; increased access to Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, and provisions that allow drug users to dial 911 to report an overdose without fear of being arrested.

Jefferson County, the state’s most populous, had the most overdose deaths of any county, with 204, an increase of 12 from 2013. Fayette County had the largest increase, 26 deaths, for a 2014 total of 112. Boone County reported 12 additional overdose deaths, while Campbell and Madison counties were up 11 each.

The five counties with the most heroin deaths were Jefferson, 105; Fayette, 35; Kenton, 26; Campbell, 15; and Boone, 14.

The largest decrease in overdose deaths occurred in Bell County, which had 11 fatalities in 2014 after recording 26 in 2013. Other counties with significant declines in 2014 included Daviess (14 fewer), Hopkins (12 fewer) and Harlan (6 fewer).

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

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