Fayette County

Overdose deaths on the rise. Lexington gets $2 million from feds to fight back.

How one tool helps Lexington police battle opioid overdoses

Lexington police Sgt. Jesse Palmer shows how to use naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.
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Lexington police Sgt. Jesse Palmer shows how to use naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

Lexington has received a $2 million federal grant to buy more overdose reversal kits and hire an overdose prevention coordinator to help get more people into treatment.

The money comes as overdose deaths continue to climb, reaching 187 last year. That’s a steep increase from 74 in 2012.

The Fayette County Health Department has provided 1,600 doses of naloxone, an opioid reversal drug, to people at its needle exchange program over the past several years.

It has relied on various funding sources — including the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy — to buy the kits, but demand has outpaced supply at times.

Part of the $2 million grant will be used to buy naloxone kits for drug users most at risk of overdosing, said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, the Fayette County Health Commissioner.

It will also fund naloxone kits for Fayette County Sheriff’s deputies, who provide security for Fayette County Circuit and District courts. Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt said people overdose nearly every day near the downtown courthouses.

The four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also will help pay the salary for an overdose prevention coordinator, who will help those who overdose seek treatment.

“This is a public health emergency and we’ve worked hard to put programs in place that our citizens need,” Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said during a news conference announcing the grant. “Too many citizens throughout Lexington have been impacted.”

The grant also will help fund a community outreach effort to educate the public on Kentucky’s “Good Samaritan Law,” which provides legal protections for individuals who call 911 if they witness someone having an overdose. Those callers would not face prosecution for drug possession.

An overdose prevention coordinator and stepped up efforts to educate the public about the Good Samaritan law were both identified as needs in an Opioid Misuse Resource and Needs Assessment for Fayette County that was conducted in partnership with researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

The assessment, which will be released Tuesday at the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council work session, showed that Lexington police and fire administered 2,515 doses of naloxone in 2017 alone. The bulk of those, 1,567 doses, were administered by fire and emergency services.

The city has mostly footed the bill for naloxone, aside from Central Bank donating $50,000 to buy the drug for Lexington police.

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Emergency rooms have been flooded with drug overdoses. Area hospitals reported 1,432 emergency room visits as a result of overdoses, with 997 requiring hospitalizations in 2017, according to the study.

Many first-responders who took the survey said they are experiencing burn out.

“First responders view that almost half of the incidents they see on the job involve an opioid-related overdose and the majority of individuals refuse care,” the study said. “All service providers reported that opioid misuse has contributed to burnout in their profession, indicating a need for support to address the emotional toil of the opioid epidemic on service providers.”

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