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Experts Take a Deeper Dive into KY Opioid Epidemic

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Intravenous drug use spurred by the opioid epidemic is increasing the rise of infectious diseases. (Pixabay)
Intravenous drug use spurred by the opioid epidemic is increasing the rise of infectious diseases. (Pixabay)
 By Mary KuhlmanContact
September 20, 2018

LEXINGTON, Ky. — As health, business and community leaders in Kentucky continue their work to combat the opioid epidemic, they'll take an even deeper dive into the problem at an upcoming event.

In recent years, the state has limited painkiller prescriptions and joined a lawsuit against drug companies. Despite these efforts, drug overdose deaths in Kentucky have jumped about 40 percent in the past five years. Ben Chandler, CEO of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said with such widespread effects, people want answers.

"It's tremendously important to the people of Kentucky to be aware of what we're dealing with as it relates to opioids,” Chandler said. “We're all worried about it. We saw record numbers of overdoses in the last year or two, and we're looking for solutions."

Infectious-disease physician at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Dr. Ardis Hoven, said beyond addiction and overdose deaths, the epidemic has created challenges related to the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, and bacterial infections.

"One IV drug user who might be infected with Hepatitis C is likely to infect up to another 20 people,” Hoven said. “We know that about one out of about 23 women who inject drugs, and about one out of 36 men who inject drugs, will acquire HIV disease. "

Hoven said it's a serious public health problem, because the person using IV drugs isn't the only one developing life-changing diseases.

"That individual who may acquire HIV disease from injecting drugs has the potential for passing it on to someone else - a spouse, a partner - or a woman who becomes pregnant passing it on to her unborn child,” Hoven said.

The Howard Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum will be held Monday, Sept. 24, in Lexington. It's free of charge and was organized by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to build a better understanding of how the substance-use epidemic is affecting Kentuckians and to examine policies that could address the problem.

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