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Kentucky’s Overdose Deaths Decline for First Time in 6 Years

Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky decreased by 15% in 2018, yet fentanyl continues to be a killer. (Adobe Stock)
Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky decreased by 15% in 2018, yet fentanyl continues to be a killer. (Adobe Stock)
July 25, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. – For the first time since 2013, drug overdose deaths among Kentucky residents are on the decline, according to a report released by the state Office of Drug Control Policy.

The 15% drop is a turning point from the more than 1,400 Kentuckians who overdosed and died in 2017.

Report co-author Van Ingram, executive director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, says while the decrease is a positive shift, substance abuse continues to take a disastrous toll on families, communities, social services and economic growth.

"Fentanyl continues to be the driver of most of that,” Ingram states. “Fentanyl was present in the toxicology reports of over half, over 50%, of those deaths.

“An increase in methamphetamine also was present in a number of deaths and continues to rise. We are seeing the trend of methamphetamine mixed with fentanyl, so that's disturbing."

Ingram attributes the reversal in overdose deaths to state initiatives such as prescription drug monitoring programs, widespread use of naloxone and boosting access to substance abuse treatment, as well as the passing of several laws aimed at curbing opioid prescribing.

Residents ages 35 to 44 were the demographic most likely to overdose, according to the report.

The largest number of overdose deaths in 2018 occurred in Jefferson County, where 337 people died. However, that number is down from the more than 400 deaths documented the year prior.

Ingram says the state is focusing on long-term ways to help people struggling with substance abuse.

"We are putting some focus now on transitional housing and employment supports,” he states. “We know people in recovery do better when they have a safe, sober place to live.

“And there's a body of research that shows people who have careers, who are on a good career path, have an easier time staying in recovery."

The state has launched a new call center to help connect people to treatment centers.

Kentuckians or their families struggling with a substance abuse disorder can call 1-833-8KY-HELP to speak with a specialist about treatment options and available resources.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY