The number of confirmed heroin overdose deaths in Lexington since Jan. 1 has grown to nine, and local authorities have formed a task force on illegal drugs with an immediate focus on heroin, Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said Friday.
Representatives of the police department, the Fayette County Attorney's office, the fire department, the mayor's office, social services, the sheriff's department, the county jail and several other agencies met Friday to discuss a task force, Ginn said.
Both Ginn and Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said this week that their agencies had seen an increase in heroin cases this year, mirroring a trend in other parts of the state.
Ginn said local officials are "dedicating time to the task force so that we can provide help to the community. We are looking at this heroin increase as well as drugs of abuse."
Mayor Jim Gray issued a statement about Friday's meeting, saying, "Earlier today, Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason and Police Chief Ronnie Bastin convened a broad-based group of law enforcement, social services and medical experts to examine enforcement and treatment solutions, and to analyze trends. We're working together to arrests dealers, increase public awareness of the dangers and focus on treatment options."
In addition to the nine confirmed fatal heroin overdoses, Ginn said his office is investigating two deaths that have occurred since Jan. 1 that might have resulted from heroin overdoses.
Heroin has replaced prescription pain pills as the drug of choice in other parts of the state for the past several months. Officials have attributed the increase in heroin use to successful efforts to curb abuse of prescription pills.
In the General Assembly, Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, has introduced Senate Bill 6, which would stiffen penalties for heroin traffickers and make it possible for prosecutors to charge dealers with homicide if a person overdoses.
House Bill 79, sponsored by Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, deals with the drug naloxone, which is used to reverse a heroin overdose. THe bill would allow doctors to prescribe naloxone to someone they think is able to administer it, such as a relative of a heroin addict.