By BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Fatal drug overdoses rose nearly 15% in Kentucky last year, topping 2,000 deaths as increased use of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid — led to a record number of deaths in the state, according to a report released Monday.
The report showed that 2,250 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses in 2021 — a plague that plagues rural counties and the state’s largest cities. It was the first time the Bluegrass State had exceeded 2,000 drug overdose deaths in a single year, said Van Ingram, executive director of the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy.
The rise in the number of deaths in the state reflects the growing epidemic of overdoses in the country. Last year, for the first time, more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in a 12-month period, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about two-thirds of those deaths being linked to fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.
In Kentucky, fentanyl was identified in nearly 73% of overdose deaths last year, according to Monday’s report.
“We have never seen a single drug so prevalent in toxicology reports of overdose deaths,” Ingram said in a phone interview.
Overdose deaths are often attributed to more than one drug. Some people take multiple drugs, and fentanyl is increasingly being cut into other drugs, often unbeknownst to buyers, officials say.
“I spoke to a director of the drug task force last week who said, ‘We find fentanyl in everything,'” Ingram said.
US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has funneled large sums of federal money to his home state of Kentucky over the years to deal with his substance abuse issues, said in a recent column that fentanyl had “flooded” the country’s southern border.
“Law enforcement officials across the Commonwealth tell me that in order to reduce overdose deaths, our number one priority should be to stop fentanyl from illegally entering our country through Mexico,” McConnell said. .
State officials have also pointed to the availability of potent and inexpensive methamphetamine as another factor in the latest increase in drug overdose deaths in Kentucky.
The highest number of drug overdose deaths in 2021 occurred among Kentuckians between the ages of 35 and 44, according to the report. There were 672 deaths in this age group last year, up 17.5% from the previous year.
The report on overdose deaths was released by the Kentucky Cabinet of Justice and Public Safety and Office of Drug Control Policy.
Kentucky has long been plagued by high rates of addiction to opioid painkillers.
In 2020, more than 1,960 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses, up nearly 50% from the pre-pandemic death toll of 1,316 in 2019. Many people have halted their treatment efforts for the drug addiction for fear of contracting COVID-19. That, along with the sense of isolation caused by the virus, contributed to the spike in overdose deaths in 2020, state officials said at the time.
Now, treatment and recovery programs are ramping up again in Kentucky.
“Every day we must work together to fund recovery programs and treatment options so that we can continue to fight this scourge and get our people the help they need,” Governor Andy Beshear said Monday. in a press release.
The governor said the death toll from overdoses was “devastating and extremely heartbreaking”.
Ahead of Monday’s report, Beshear announced another step toward achieving a statewide policy goal of providing free services close to home to help Kentuckians overcome drug addiction.
The state is working to create cities and counties as “recovery-ready communities” — aimed at providing high-quality recovery programs throughout Kentucky, the Beshear administration said.
“This drug epidemic in this country is going to be solved one community at a time,” Ingram said later Monday, touting the program.
The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy is partnering with Volunteers of America to launch the Recovery Ready Community Certification Program. Cities and counties can seek certification by providing free transportation, support groups, and employment services to people seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. A measure signed into law last year by Kentucky lawmakers created an advisory board to create the recovery-ready certification.
Kentucky State Rep. Adam Bowling, the measure’s lead sponsor, said Monday the program “will enable cities and counties to provide a powerful lifeline to help Kentuckians build addiction-free lives.” “.
“Make no mistake about it, drug addiction is a debilitating and dangerous disease that can be successfully prevented and treated,” Bowling said in a statement. “However, those facing it need to have community support and access to treatment and resources, regardless of where they live or how much money they have in their bank account.”
People can call the KY Help call center at 833-8KY-HELP (833-859-4357) to speak one-on-one with a specialist who can connect Kentuckians to treatment.
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