Meth is Kentucky’s most abused illicit drug, fentanyl presents the biggest challenges

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While national attention focused on waves of opioid and heroin crises, methamphetamine and fentanyl use across the country – and in Kentucky – quietly grew.

In Kentucky, between 2013 and 2017, Kentucky State Police saw a decrease in cocaine and heroin seizures accompanied by sizable growth in fentanyl and fentanyl analog seizures. Over that time, fentanyl arrests increased by 14,465% and methamphetamine arrests grew by 400%. While fentanyl saw more rapid growth, by 2016, methamphetamine arrests outnumbered cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl seizures combined.

The prevalence of methamphetamine use is not isolated to one region of Kentucky. In the 2017 Crime in Kentucky Report released by KSP, methamphetamine arrests in every single Area Development District outnumbered heroin arrests. This was also the case in all but eight of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

In 2017, methamphetamine accounted for over 15% of all drug arrests across the state, but in some pockets more than a quarter of all drug arrests were for methamphetamine.

The 2012 Kentucky law that imposed sales restrictions and tracking requirements on pseudoephedrine – a key ingredient in meth production – successfully limited the production of methamphetamine – but only in Kentucky. The number of methamphetamine labs busted dropped from its peak of 1,233 in 2011 to 99 labs in 2017.

While the 2012 law made residential areas and police work safer by reducing the number of dangerous home labs across the state, the law had little to no impact on methamphetamine use. During this time, methamphetamine use continued to grow because methamphetamine from other states and countries flooded into Kentucky. Between 2014 and 2018, the pounds of methamphetamine seized by the US Customs Office of Field Operations grew from 23,234 pounds to 56,362 pounds – nearly a twofold increase.

Not only is methamphetamine use prevalent – it’s also deadly. Numerous hospitals in the Commonwealth have reported growing numbers of methamphetamine overdoses while opioid-related overdoses have plateaued.

The combination of growing numbers of seizures, arrests, and overdoses demonstrates that while we have been fighting on the opioid front, another serious drug abuse front has emerged. When tackling drug abuse and addiction, the conversation needs to be broader as focusing one drug often ushers in many others.

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