A woman was found dead Thursday morning of a suspected drug overdose after Madison County dealt with a surge in overdose emergency calls Wednesday.
The spike in overdose calls followed similar surges last week in Jefferson County and last month in neighboring Jessamine County.
In a span of 12 hours Wednesday, Madison County emergency workers responded to nine drug overdose calls. Five of those came within 90 minutes, said Carlos Coyle, director of Madison County EMS.
The death of the 51-year-old woman is a suspected drug overdose, Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison said. The woman’s identify had not been released but Kentucky State Police in Richmond were investigating her death.
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“Obviously, there’s something that has come into town within the last 24 to 48 hours,” Cornelison said.
Richmond Police Chief James Ebert said his department is trying to determine the source and type of drugs involved.
“What we’re trying to figure out is if there was fentanyl mixed in with heroin but I don’t have an answer yet,” Ebert said Thursday afternoon. The Madison County Drug Task Force was also investigating, Ebert said.
Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that is more potent than heroin.
Coyle said the Madison County spike peaked between 7 and 8:30 p.m., when EMS workers responded to five overdose calls.
“It’s not unusual when a new shipment comes into the community for us to get a few overdoses in a short period of time, but to get five within an hour and a half is unusual,” Coyle said.
“Typically our busiest times are the first weekends of the month where we’ll see a spike,” Coyle said. “But this was a spike that happened mid-month, not on a weekend, and within a short period of time.”
Most of the victims were found in businesses, homes and vehicles in and near Richmond, Coyle said.
To alert the public, Madison County EMS put up a notice about the spike on its Facebook page.
“We thought that putting it out on the Facebook page would at least put out a notice to make people aware of what’s going on,” Coyle said. “Knowledge is obviously power, and we wanted to get the message out there. That post traveled quickly and was shared numerous times.”
Kentucky is one five states with the highest rates of death linked to drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York Times reported earlier this week. The CDC says that 91 people in the United States die every day from opioid overdose, the newspaper reported.
Clusters of overdose calls are beginning to be a common occurrence and are raising concerns that drug-related overdoses and deaths are accelerating. Emergency crews responded to nine overdoses in Jessamine County in a 24-hour period on Jan. 9 and 10. Emergency workers in Louisville responded to 52 overdose calls between midnight Feb. 8 and 8 a.m. Feb. 10.
And in August, Mount Sterling and Montgomery County had a spate of 12 heroin overdoses, including one death, during a 24-hour period.
As the overdose numbers rose Wednesday in Madison County, Cornelison, the coroner, was talking with Coyle, the EMS director, about the surge.
“We were talking about all the cases, and I said, ‘That’s the ones they found. I wonder how many they didn’t find,’” Cornelison said.
Then, shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday, Cornelison received the call about the woman’s suspected death from an overdose.