Drug overdose deaths in 2013 increased in Fayette; Eastern Kentucky rates are state's highest

vhoneycutt @herald-leader.comJuly 31, 2014 

A report issued Thursday by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy showed that the state's largest increase in the raw number of overdose fatalities last year occurred in Fayette County, with 86 deaths in 2013, up from 74 in 2012.

The highest rates of overdose deaths were in Eastern Kentucky.

Overall, the report indicated Kentucky drug overdose deaths remained steady in 2013, but the number of deaths specifically attributed to heroin continued to climb.

"I'm encouraged that even with the more demanding reporting stipulations, we appear to be holding steady, which tells me we may have crested in terms of overdose deaths," Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said in a news release. "Now we need to continue defeating the problem through education, enforcement and treatment, particularly in the area of heroin use."

The statewide numbers, contained in the 2013 Overdose Fatality Report, show 1,007 overdose fatalities in 2013, compared to 1,004 identified in the 2012 report.

Of the 722 overdose deaths in which the state medical examiner did autopsies last year, 230, or 31.9 percent, were attributed to heroin, compared to 143, or 19.6 percent, in 2012.

The top five counties for heroin detected in overdose deaths were Jefferson, 105; Fayette, 35; Kenton, 34; Boone, 22; and Campbell, 16. The first four are the state's most populous counties; Campbell is No. 8.

Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said Thursday said that his records showed slightly different numbers for 2013 than the state report: Ginn listed 81 drug overdose deaths in Fayette County, 44 related to heroin.

Of the overdose deaths in which the state medical examiner's office did autopsies in 2013, morphine was the most detected controlled substance, present in 43.49 percent of the cases, according to the report.

Dr. Tracey Corey, Kentucky's chief medical examiner, said in the news release that many of the cases involving morphine might involve heroine instead because morphine is the major pharmaceutical substance detected in the blood after injection of heroin, and substances present in the blood that indicate heroin use might have been eliminated at the time of death.

In terms of overall overdose deaths, Pike County had 12 fewer deaths in 2013 than in 2012, and Clark and Madison each had 10 fewer.

The rates of overdose deaths in many Eastern Kentucky were high. The top six counties for 2013 by overdose deaths were:

Bell, 93.2 per 100,000 people; Clinton, 49.3; Breathitt, 44.3; Floyd, 43.9; Perry, 42.8; and Harlan, 42.1. Of those, only Clinton County, on the Tennessee state line, is not in Eastern Kentucky.

Fayette County's rate was 27.9 deaths per 100,000.

The report was mandated under a state law that was passed in 2012.

In Washington on Thursday, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell mentioned Kentucky's problem on the Senate floor as he discussed legislation related to prescription drugs.

"Prescription drug and heroin abuse have risen to epidemic levels in my home state of Kentucky," McConnell said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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