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Opioid Epidemic: Kentucky

HomeOpioid Epidemic: Kentucky

The national opioid epidemic has taken its toll in Kentucky, with 1,330 lethal overdoses due to opioids in 2016 alone. Fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid that is often blended with other drugs such as heroin, has contributed to almost half of all fatalities. It played a role in 623 overdoses, which was a significant increase from the 459 in 2015. According to the 2016 Overdose Fatality Report, Kentucky was ranked as the third highest state with the highest amount of overdose death rates. In 2015, fentanyl reportedly began overtaking heroin as the leading contributor to overdoses in Kentucky. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin and can be deadly even at low levels.

Meanwhile, drug cartels have been contributing to Kentucky’s growing opioid epidemic by producing newer and more potent varieties of fentanyl, and increasing resident’s risk of overdose. According to the Northern Kentucky Tribune, drugs about 100 times more potent than fentanyl have been circulating throughout Kentucky. Recently, the director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy described an incident in which a “bad batch of drugs led to dozens of overdoses in a single community overnight” (NKY Tribune, 2017). Although Naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdose, is now widely available to emergency responders in Kentucky, it is less effective against fentanyl and several doses of it are required to revive an individual suffering from overdose.

Recently, the Kentucky governor offered six ideas to end the opioid epidemic including; limiting opioid painkiller prescriptions to a three-day supply, tracking who is prescribing, dispensing, and using those drugs, changing healthcare to not focus so heavily on alleviating patients’ pain, educating mothers about neonatal abstinence syndrome, providing more treatment beds to treat those addicted to opioids, and making naloxone available as an over the counter medication. According to the governor, there were 350 million doses of opioid painkillers administered just last year, or 79 pills for every man, woman, and child in Kentucky; raising the question if patients are really in that much pain and why they are receiving so much medication. However, there is hope that this problem will be resolved by limiting the supply and enforcing a prescription drug monitoring program, called the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System (KASPER). Furthermore, increased access to treatment options for those suffering from opioid addiction, as well as for their friends and families, would greatly improve the chances of individuals getting help before overdosing and significantly decrease Kentucky’s high fatal overdose rates.


Opioid epidemic taking its toll in Kentucky — and, yes, NKY counties are among the leaders. (2017, June 28). Retrieved September 07, 2017, from                                    2017/06/opioid-epidemic-taking-its-toll-in-kentucky-and-yes-nky-counties-are-among-the-leaders/

Stempniak, M. (2017, April 18). 6 Ways Kentucky Is Aiming to End the Opioid Scourge in 2017. Retrieved September 07, 2017, from                   kentucky-is-aiming-to-end-the-opioid-scourge-in-2017