Home » Report: Drug overdose deaths up 16.5% in Kentucky in 2015

Report: Drug overdose deaths up 16.5% in Kentucky in 2015

Fentanyl found in 34% of deaths

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 14, 2016) — Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky were up 16.5 percent in 2015, according to a report released today by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. Kentucky had 1,248 fatal overdose deaths in 2015, up from 1,071 in 2014.

Deaths as a result of fentanyl, the drug found in the system of musician Prince, factored in 420 drug deaths—34 percent—in 2015, up from 121 deaths in 2014.

“The introduction of illicit fentanyl into the heroin trade is producing devastating results,” said Van Ingram, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy. “Whether it’s manufactured to resemble heroin or a prescription pill, the cartels have made an already dangerous situation worse.”

The report was compiled with data from the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office, the Kentucky Injury Prevention & Research Center and the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics.

According to the DEA, international drug cartels are producing fentanyl in illicit labs or smuggling it over the southern U.S. border. Traffickers use it to spike heroin or mix it with other binding agents before selling it on the street. The drug’s high potency allows them to reap more profit.

Even in prescription form, fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II narcotic, and only prescribed for severe pain, often near the end of a patient’s life.

The legislature passed a bill in 2015 to improve treatment and increase penalties for traffickers. The measure—Senate Bill 192—also included a number of harm reduction efforts, such as improved access to naloxone, a life-saving drug that can reverse opioid overdoses.

Under the new law, trafficking in two or more grams of heroin—or fentanyl—is now considered a Class C felony for the first offense and a Class B felony for subsequent offenses. The legislation also classified synthetic fentanyl as a Schedule I narcotic.

In addition, Gov. Matt Bevin and the General Assembly increased funding for anti-drug efforts in the upcoming state budget. The plan allocates $15.7 million in fiscal year 2017 and $16.3 million in fiscal year 2018. That’s compared to the $10 million in the current fiscal year.

“We all know someone who has suffered under this scourge, and today’s report is another troubling reminder that the complex problem of drug abuse demands a multi-faceted approach,” said Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley. “We must remain focused and proactive and continue to build on these efforts.”

Among other significant findings in the report:

  • Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths of any county, with 268.
  • Jefferson County also had the largest increase, up from 204 deaths in 2014. Kenton County increased from 71 deaths in 2014 to 112 last year. Fayette County went from 112 in 2014 to 141 in 2015.
  • The largest decrease occurred in Knox County, which had 12 fewer fatalities in 2015 compared with the previous year. Other counties with significant declines in 2015 include Bullitt County, which declined by 11; McCracken County, which declined by 10; and Perry County, which declined by 9.
  • Overdose deaths in some Kentucky counties, when compared on a per-capita basis, showed high rates.

Counties with the most overdose deaths from 2012 and 2015:

  • Leslie County, 68.6 deaths per 100,000 people
  • Bell County, 61.2 per 100,000
  • Gallatin County, 52.6 per 100,000
  • Knott County, 48.7 per 100,000
  • Wolfe County, 48.3 per 100,000
  • Floyd County, 47.6 per 100,000
  • Campbell County, 47.2 per 100,000
  • Kenton County, 46.3 per 100,000

The top counties for heroin-related overdose deaths, using data from the Kentucky Medical Examiner and coroner reports, were:

  • Jefferson County, 131
  • Kenton County, 51
  • Fayette County, 34
  • Campbell County, 20
  • Boone County, 19

The top counties with the most fentanyl-related overdose deaths were:

  • Kenton County, 53
  • Fayette County, 51
  • Jefferson County, 39
  • Boone County, 29
  • Campbell County, 20

The top counties with the most heroin/fentanyl combination overdose deaths were:

  • Kenton County, 21
  • Fayette County, 19
  • Jefferson County, 17
  • Boone County, 13
  • Campbell County, 12