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While Number of Drug Overdoses in Kentucky Levels Off, Heroin Deaths Increase

Heroin comes in many forms
Heroin comes in many forms

The number of overdose deaths related to heroin continues to climb in Kentucky.

A new report from the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy shows that while the number of total overdoses remained steady in 2013, deaths caused by heroin increased by more than 12 percent.

In 2012, 19.6 percent of drug related deaths recorded by the state were due to heroin. That number increased to 31.9 percent in 2013.

Overall, the number of drug deaths in Kentucky leveled off last year, increasing by only three from 2012.

Van Ingram, the Executive Director of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said one way to combat the rising number of heroin deaths would be to increase the availability of narcan, a drug used to halt the effects of opioid overdose. Narcan is currently found in emergency rooms and carried by paramedics.

“We’d like to see it in the hands of police officers, we’d like to see it in the hands of families of people who are at risk, and just as widespread as we can make it, because we can’t get people into treatment and we can’t help them turn their lives around once they’re lost,” Ingram told WKU Public Radio.

The number of deaths due to heroin overdose may actually be higher than the new report indicates. Morphine was detected in the bodies of 43 percent of those who received autopsies following an overdose.

Some, if not many, of the cases officially listed as morphine deaths could involve heroin. Morphine is detected in the blood after a person injects heroin, and the substances that indicate heroin use are sometimes eliminated by the time of the autopsy.

Ingram said that while he’s disappointed the number of overdose deaths hasn’t decreased, he maintained that there are still bits of good news that can be found in the report.

“We watched these (overdose death) numbers grow by the hundreds for five years. So that they’re leveling off steady for the last two years is a good sign—it’s not what I want, but it’s a good sign. And the number of deaths due to prescription opioids is down.”

Some other statistics from the report:

  • 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                         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

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.
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