A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Overdose deaths in Kentucky stayed steady
in 2013, but heroin deaths continued to climb

Fayette County is one of the top five counties for heroin detected in overdose deaths. Jefferson County had the most. Three Northern Kentucky counties were also among the top five. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Fayette County is one of the top five counties for heroin detected in overdose deaths. Jefferson County had the most. Three Northern Kentucky counties were also among the top five. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)


Kentucky overdose deaths stayed steady in 2013, while the number of deaths attributed to heroin continued to climb, according to a report issued today by the Office of Drug Control Policy.

The report indicates 1,007 overdose fatalities in 2013, compared to 1,004 identified in the 2012 report. Of the 722 deaths autopsied by the Kentucky Medical Examiner last year that were determined to be from a drug overdose, 230, or 31.9 percent, were attributed to heroin, compared to 143, or 19.6 percent, in 2012.

In 2011, there were 1,023 overdose deaths in Kentucky, 3 percent of which were attributed to heroin.

Other significant findings in the report include:

• Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths of any county, with 191.

• The largest increase in overdose fatalities occurred in Fayette County, with 86 deaths in 2013 compared to 74 in 2012.

• The largest decrease occurred in Campbell County, with 22 fewer fatalities in 2013 than in 2012 (33 versus 55, respectively). Other counties with significant declines in 2013 include Pike (12 fewer), Clark (10 fewer), and Madison (10 fewer).

• Overdose deaths in many Eastern Kentucky counties, when compared by 100,000 population, 2013 data, showed high rates. The top 6 counties by overdose deaths per 100,000 people for 2013 include:

Bell County: 93.2 per 100,000
Clinton County: 49.3 per 100,000
Breathitt County: 44.3 per 100,000
Floyd County: 43.9 per 100,000
Perry County: 42.8 per 100,000
Harlan County: 42.1 per 100,000


• The top five counties for heroin detected in overdose deaths, according to data from Kentucky Medical Examiner and coroner reports, include:

Jefferson County 105
Fayette County 35
Kenton County 34
Boone County 22
Campbell County 16


• Of the overdose deaths autopsied by the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office in 2013:

• Morphine was the most detected controlled substance in overdose deaths, present in 43.49 percent of all autopsied cases.

• Alprazolam was next at 34.76 percent, followed by 6 monoacetylmorphine (heroin) at 31.9 percent, hydrocodone at 24.79 percent, and oxycodone at 19.94 percent.

• The youngest overdose fatality was 18 years old, and the oldest was 78 years old.

The numbers, contained in the 2013 Overdose Fatality Report, were compiled from the Kentucky Medical Examiners Office, the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Council, and the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics. The report was mandated under a provision in HB 1 which was passed in 2012.

Last year’s report reflected Kentucky residents who died of a drug overdose regardless of where the death occurred; this year’s report counts overdose deaths that occurred in Kentucky, regardless of where the decedent was from.

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The law also mandated more stringent reporting requirements for deaths caused by overdose, which went into effect midway through 2012. As a result, drug policy leaders had anticipated that numbers for 2013 – the first full year of the more rigorous standards – would be significantly higher.

“I’m encouraged that even with the more demanding reporting stipulations, we appear to be holding steady, which tells me we may have crested in terms of overdose deaths,” said Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy. “Now we need to continue defeating the problem through education, enforcement and treatment, particularly in the area of heroin use.”

Ingram noted that the report contains known overdose deaths as of mid-July, 2014, and that a small number of overdose deaths for 2013 may still be reported as death certificates from county coroners are turned in to the Office of Vital Statistics. For comparison purposes, the 2012 Overdose Fatality Report indicated 1,004 deaths; by the end of 2013, the final number of overdose deaths for 2012 was 1,070.

Dr. Tracey Corey, Kentucky’s chief medical examiner, noted that many of the cases reported as morphine may in fact involve heroin, as morphine is the major pharmaceutical substance detected in the blood after injection of heroin, and the other substances present in the blood indicating heroin use may have already been eliminated at the time of death.

To view the report in its entirety, click here.

From Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy

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