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After years of steady increases, Kentucky’s overdose deaths declined in 2018; first time since 2013

Kentucky’s targeted approach to protecting its citizens from drug overdose deaths has resulted in the first decline since 2013. There were 233 fewer drug fatalities in the Commonwealth during 2018 than there were in 2017.

A report released today by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy indicates lethal overdoses totaled 1,333 in 2018. That is down from an all-time high of 1,566 in 2017. The decline follows years of steady increases in the death toll, driven mostly by a rise in opioid abuse, heroin and fentanyl.

The largest decrease in fatalities occurred in Jefferson County, where 89 fewer Kentucky residents died of overdoses in 2018 as compared to 2017. Kenton, Campbell, Nelson, and Jessamine counties combined to record 63 fewer overdose fatalities than reported the previous year.

“The drug epidemic has taken an incalculable toll on the families and communities of our state and our nation,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “We are extremely grateful to see a significant decline in overdose fatalities, but there is still much work to do. Our Administration will continue our strong partnership with legislators, law enforcement officers and healthcare professionals, as we allocate unprecedented resources to combat this scourge and save lives.”

Photo from Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy

The total number of overdose deaths last fell in 2013 by close to 3 percent. However, the drop in 2018 was by far the largest in at least a decade.

Kentucky’s Deadliest Drugs 

Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues were the most lethal drug in 2018, contributing to 786 overdose deaths. There was also an increase in deaths attributed to methamphetamine.

Deaths from other controlled substances such as heroin, alprazolam and gabapentin all declined in 2018.

“The numbers are trending down, but our state still faces incredible challenges,” said Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley. “This crisis claimed more than 1,300 lives last year and inflicted untold heartbreak on our families and communities. I only hope the latest numbers serve as evidence that strong interventions and better access to treatment can and do save lives. We must continue our momentum in these areas, and I pray that all of Kentucky will join together on this front.”

Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said the overall decline in deaths was the likely result of numerous policy initiatives underway in Kentucky along with growing awareness about the dangers of opioids and the threat of overdose.

“We’ve pushed hard to develop the most comprehensive approach possible, combining education and treatment with a multitude of other harm-reduction strategies,” Ingram said. “We still have a great deal of work to do, but it’s clear that Kentucky’s efforts are making an impact.”

Attacking the Problem is Effective

Over the past three and a half years, the Bevin Administration has made attacking the opioid crisis a top priority, advancing a series of programs and policy initiatives to improve access to treatment and save lives.

In 2017, the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet partnered with Operation UNITE to create the KY Help Call Center, which provides information on treatment options and open slots among treatment providers. Those with a substance use disorder — or their friends or family members – may call 1-833-8KY-HELP (1-833-859-4357) and speak one-on-one to a specialist who will connect them with treatment as quickly as possible.

Photo from Kentucky Office of Drug Policy Control

The administration also joined with the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health to launch FindHelpNowKY.org. The site provides a search engine for drug treatment, helping users locate treatment providers based on location, facility type, and category of treatment needed.

In 2018, Kentucky State Police launched the Angel Initiative. Anyone suffering from a substance use disorder can now visit a KSP post and be paired with a local officer who will assist with locating an appropriate treatment program.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) is undertaking a comprehensive overhaul of substance abuse programming. The move will expand the system to include every possible treatment modality available, offering additional tools and options for clinicians and inmates. DOC is hiring additional treatment clinicians to provide services both inside and outside prison walls, and is providing dedicated treatment staff at Probation and Parole offices.

Gov. Bevin and the General Assembly have significantly increased funding for the state’s drug response efforts, allocating a record $79 million over the past two budget cycles.

The Governor and lawmakers also collaborated on House Bill 333, which limits opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply unless a doctor provides written justification for a larger amount.

In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded more than $87 million for Kentucky CAN HEAL (Communities and Networks Helping End Addiction Long-term) – a partnership between the University of Kentucky’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research (CDAR), the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. The project will fund a comprehensive four-year study aimed at reducing opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent in 16 counties that represent more than one-third of Kentucky’s population.

In addition, strong partnerships with federal law enforcement, including collaboration with U.S. Attorneys Rob Duncan and Russell Coleman and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), have contributed to the progress Kentucky is making in combating the drug epidemic.

Largest decline in resident, drug-related fatalities by county:

• Jefferson County – 89
• Kenton County – 24
• Campbell County – 14

• Nelson County – 13
• Jessamine County – 12

Most resident, overdose deaths by county: (age adjusted, per capita)

• Boyd County – 60
• Madison County – 57
• Kenton County – 56
• Clark County – 51
• Campbell County – 49

Most resident, heroin-related overdose deaths by county:

• Jefferson County – 84
• Fayette County – 36
• Kenton County – 14
• Boyd County – 7
• Campbell County – 6

Most resident, fentanyl-related deaths by county:

• Jefferson County – 229
• Fayette County – 117
• Kenton County – 71
• Boone County – 39
• Campbell County – 32

From Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet

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