Six eastern Kentucky counties – Bell, Clinton, Breathitt, Floyd, Perry and Harlan – had the highest rates of overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, according to the 2013 Overdose Fatality Report.
Substance abuse, particularly the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs, is one of the most critical public health and safety issues facing Kentucky, the report states.
Over the past decade, the number of Kentuckians who die from drug overdoses has steadily climbed to more than 1,000 each year, exacting a devastating toll on families, communities, social services and economic stability and growth.
The report was prepared by the Office of Drug Control Policy, in cooperation with the Kentucky Medical Examiners Office, for the Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
Among the report’s findings:
• Overdose deaths in many eastern Kentucky counties, when compared by 100,000 population, 2013 data, showed high rates. The top six counties by overdose deaths per 100,000 people for 2013 are:
- Bell County, 93.2 per 100,000
- Clinton County, 49.3 per 100,000
- Breathitt County, 44.3 per 100,000
- Floyd County, 43.9 per 100,000
- Perry County, 42.8 per 100,00
- Harlan 42.1 per 100,000
Why these counties had high overdose death rates was not specified in the report, and is a mystery to the person who oversaw the preparation of the report.
“I wish I had an explanation. Unfortunately I do not,” Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Policy Control, said.
Other findings were:
• Morphine was the most detected controlled substance in overdose deaths, present in 44 percent of all autopsied cases.
• Alprazolam (sold as Xanax and Niravam) was next at 35 percent, followed by 6 monoacetylmorphine (heroin) at 32 percent, hydrocodone at 25 percent and oxycodone at 20 percent. The numbers do not add up to 100 percent because more than one drug is frequently found in the systems of overdose victims.
Dr. Tracey Corey, Kentucky’s chief medical examiner, noted that many of the cases reported as morphine may in fact involve heroin, as morphine is the major pharmaceutical substance detected in the blood after a heroin injection, and other substances present in the blood indicating heroin use may have already been eliminated at the time of death.
• The youngest overdose victim in the state for 2013 was 18 years old; the oldest was 78.
• Kentucky overdose fatalities stayed relatively steady in 2013. Overdose deaths in Kentucky regardless of the residency of the decedent numbered 1007 as tabulated by July 2014, compared to 1004 overdose deaths counted in the 2012 report.
• Autopsied overdose deaths attributed to the use of heroin increased. Of the 722 deaths autopsied by the Kentucky Medical Examiner last year that were determined to be from a drug overdose, 230, or 31.9 percent, were attributed to heroin, compared to 143, or 19.6 percent, in 2012.
• Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths of any county, with 191.
• The largest increase in overdose fatalities occurred in Fayette County, with 86 deaths in 2013 compared to 74 in 2012.
• The largest decrease occurred in Campbell County, with 22 fewer fatalities in 2013 than 2012 (33 versus 55, respectively). Other counties with significant declines in 2013 include Pike (12 fewer), Clark (10 fewer), and Madison (10 fewer).