drug overdose

New federal data shows the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to the country’s deadliest 12-month period for drug overdose fatalities, including a sharp increase in overdose deaths in the Ohio Valley. 

According to the latest data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 81,000 people died due to drug overdoses in the 12 months from May 2019 through May 2020 — the largest number of overdose deaths recorded in a year —  forcing the federal agency to issue a health advisory making recommendations to tackle this spike in deaths.

Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force

Eleven drug task force agencies across Kentucky are using a new hand-held device that gives them the ability to analyze drugs in the field before sending them to a lab.  

The TruNarc device uses laser technology to identify a wide range of drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, which can be harmful or even deadly, if absorbed through the skin or inhaled.

Tod Young is deputy director of the Bowling Green-Warren County Task Force. He said TruNarc uses a process known as Raman spectroscopy to analyze illegal drugs without having to open a packet. 

“The laser provides us with a spectrum of the molecules of the substance that we’re looking at," said Young.  "Inside the device, the computer compares the spectrum or fingerprint of what we’re looking at to a known library of substances.” 


Overdose Deaths Slightly Declined in Warren County

Jan 8, 2018

The number of drug overdose deaths in Warren County declined slightly in 2017.

Warren County saw 18 drug overdose deaths in 2017, compared to 19 in 2016.

County Coroner Kevin Kirby said toxicology reports also show an increase in people with methamphetamine in their system. Kirby said while there’s more awareness about the risk of addiction with prescription opioids, that hasn’t dramatically reduced fatal overdoses in Warren County.

Two Campbellsville residents have been arrested for obtaining and distributing prescription drugs under false pretenses.  Investigators say the pair illegally distributed more than a thousand Suboxone tablets. 

Steve Davis, Inspector General for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, says Suboxone is used to wean addicts off of opiates, but it still has addictive qualities.

"It is itself an opiate, but it's a partial antagonist, which means it doesn't have the full effect that a full-fledged opiate would have," Davis told WKU Public Radio.  "One of the primary differences is that it doesn't cause respiratory distress when it's over-utilized."

Attorney General Andy Beshear says part of the solution to Kentucky’s drug epidemic begins at home. 

Beshear announced a new program Tuesday that will help get unused pain killers out of home medicine cabinets, a place where family or friends often begin their drug abuse. 

The AG’s office has launched the Kentucky Opioid Disposal Program which uses the drug deactivation pouch Deterra.  Kentuckians will be able to place their unused medication into the pouch, fill it with warm water, wait 30 seconds, seal the pouch, and shake the pouch before disposing of it in normal trash. One pouch destroys 45 pills, six ounces of liquid or six patches.

Creative Commons

While the heroin epidemic continues to make news, prescription drug abuse is still in the forefront of the minds of Kentuckians. That’s according to a new poll out Tuesday from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

According to the poll, 1 in 3 people in Eastern Kentucky know someone who’s had problems as a result of prescription pain reliever abuse. That compares to 1 in 6 people in the same region knowing someone who’s abused heroin. In Louisville, 1 in 4 four people know someone who’s been addicted to heroin or prescription drugs.

“It started with the abuse of prescription opioids — opioid painkillers that were prescribed by doctors,” said Ben Chandler, president of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Tommy Farmer/Tennessee Bureau of Investigation/AP

Federal data suggest illegally manufactured fentanyl, a drug that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, is behind an increase in overdose deaths.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there was a 426 percent increase in seized drug products that tested positive for fentanyl from 2013 to 2014. And separate data show the number of deaths involving synthetic opioids, a class that includes fentanyl, rose 79 percent during that same period. Among 27 U.S. states analyzed, there was a strong correlation between increases in synthetic opioid deaths and in seized fentanyl products, according to data published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

That suggests, the authors say, that fentanyl is driving the spike in overdoses. (Deaths attributed specifically to fentanyl aren't reported in national data.)

Fentanyl is available by prescription to treat severe pain. But the fentanyl that's currently on the streets — usually mixed into heroin and often without the user's knowledge — isn't from diverted pharmaceutical products. Instead it's being illicitly manufactured, according to the government.