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Kentucky Hospitals Say Drug Overdoses Constrain Resources

Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital

Amid the opioid epidemic in Kentucky, hospitals say overdoses have strained emergency rooms.

Kentucky hospital officials told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer that drug overdose cases require intervention and critical care, tying up resources.

The opioid crisis hasn't hit western Kentucky's Daviess County, where methamphetamine is still the dominant street drug, as hard as the rest of the state. Dr. Charles Hobelmann, an emergency department physician at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, said the frequency of opioid overdoses is increasing, however.

"Amphetamines cause agitation, but opioids cause more medical problems and need for intervention," Hobelmann said.

According to the Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy, there were 1,248 overdose deaths in Kentucky in 2015, with at least 62 percent of cases attributed to opioid abuse. Lexington, Louisville, and northern Kentucky have been hit by abuse of heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers, which have caused multiple deaths and concerns of increased transmission of communicable diseases like Hepatitis C.

Dr. Andrew Bernard, chief of trauma and acute surgery at Lexington's UK Health Center, concurred with Hobelmann, saying that opioid overdoses are more serious than other types of drug overdoses.

"We don't see these life-threatening overdoses (with other drugs) like we see with opioids, because of their ability to suppress breathing," Bernard said.

Bernard indicated that the strained emergency rooms are do not even see all overdose cases, as some patients refuse to go to the hospital after being revived by responders carrying the overdose-reversing drug Narcan.

"We hear from paramedics, 'I went to the same house more than once in a single shift," Bernard said. "You can't really force a patient to go ... and later in the day, they are using again."

He said the University of Kentucky has established an opioid stewardship committee to curb over-prescription, which contributes to opioid addiction.

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