A 30 percent jump in fatal drug overdoses in Fayette County last year contributed to a statewide increase in drug-related deaths, state officials reported Wednesday.
In Lexington, 112 people died from overdoses last year, compared with 86 in 2013. Statewide, the numbers increased from 1,010 to 1,087 in 2014, an increase of 7.6 percent, according to the annual overdose death report from the state Office of Drug Control Policy.
Despite increased publicity about heroin addiction in Kentucky, the number of deaths attributed to heroin stayed steady between 2013 and 2014.
Most overdose victims had multiple drugs in their system, according to the report. Morphine was found in about 40.9 percent of overdoses, followed by cannabinoids at 35.7 percent and heroin at 28.8 percent. Other drugs commonly found in overdose victims included ethanol, alprazolam (Xanax), hydrocodone and oxycodone.
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"I am discouraged that overdose deaths increased in 2014 over 2013, and I think this demonstrates the pervasive grip and cyclical nature of addiction," said Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy. "Fortunately, we've recently put in place some changes that we hope will bring the number of deaths back down in 2015."
In March, the General Assembly approved a law to expand access to naloxone, which can immediately reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Senate Bill 192 also toughened penalties for dealing and selling heroin and added $34 million to the state's addiction treatment system.
Urban areas have shown the biggest jumps in overdose deaths, thanks to heroin, but Floyd and Pike counties in Eastern Kentucky have the highest rates of overdose deaths per 100,000 people, at 55.1 and 50.8, respectively. Prescription drug abuse has been a rampant problem in the region for more than a decade.
"The report has become more inclusive of urban areas than it was because heroin is more pronounced in Northern Kentucky, Lexington and Louisville," Ingram said. "There's been some improvement in certain areas, but we still have a lot of work to do."
The report's statistics were compiled from the Kentucky Medical Examiner's Office, the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center and the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics. The report was first mandated by the General Assembly in 2012.
Other findings in the report include:
■ Deaths from drugs statewide made up almost 60 percent of accidental deaths statewide, more than car accidents, fire, drowning or gunshot wounds.
■ Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths with 204, up 12 from 2013. The biggest increases were in Fayette, Boone, Campbell and Madison counties. The largest decrease occurred in Bell County, which had 15 fewer deaths in 2014 than the year before.
■ The five counties with the most heroin deaths were Jefferson, 105; Fayette, 35; Kenton, 26; Campbell, 15; and Boone, 14.
Tracey Corey, Kentucky's chief medical examiner, cautioned that some cases identifying morphine as the cause of death might also be due to heroin, because morphine is the major substance detected in blood after a heroin injection. Nationally, heroin overdose deaths went up sharply in 2012 and 2013, according to the National Institutes of Health.
"What we can definitely say is that we need to continue to devote significant resources and energy to help curb the tragic and untimely deaths of so many Kentuckians," Corey said.
The bill also permits local jurisdictions to allow needle exchanges, which have been approved in Louisville and Lexington.
Last fall, the Lexington Urban County Council approved funding for a new Substance Abuse and Violence Intervention office, which is headed by Amy Baker.
Baker said she wasn't surprised by the Fayette County numbers, but "it makes me sad that we're still losing people to drug overdoses."
Her office coordinates with local activists, experts and recovery experts to identify more resources to prevent drug addiction and help people overcome it. One example is the planned needle exchange operated by the Fayette County Health Department. The exchange is expected to start by Labor Day weekend.
"When people come in and say, 'I don't want to do this anymore,' we need to have information and treatment resources available," she said.
Also, Baker said, Lexington will compete for state money to improve programs that help addicted inmates in the Fayette County detention center.
"Now, people are paying attention," Baker said. "There is much to do, but the momentum is moving in the right direction."