Bags of heroin, some laced with fentanyl, displayed after a drug bust in New York. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Kentucky’s 2022 Overdose Fatality Report, released Thursday, shows the commonwealth saw its first decline in fatal overdoses since 2018.
Still, 2,135 Kentuckians died from an overdose in 2022. Ninety percent of those deaths were from opioids and fentanyl. Potent inexpensive methamphetamines also continue to be a driving factor.
During his weekly press conference Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear said most Kentuckians, including himself, have lost someone to the ongoing national opioid crisis.
While that loss is tough, Beshear said there was some hope in the report. Kentucky was one of eight states that saw a significant decrease last year in overdose deaths by a percent less than the year before. (Preliminary numbers on fatal overdoses were released in April.)
“Seeing our first decrease in overdose deaths, and being one of the few states despite the fact that the nation is up in overdose deaths, means we have a whole lot of people working incredibly hard doing selfless, amazing work,” Beshear said. “And to see this decrease at a time when the drugs are more potent than ever before and can cause overdoses that much easier means our Kentuckians out there trying to help one another are going above and beyond.”
The governor thanked law enforcement officials for working to intercept fentanyl and those who provide treatment and work in recovery. Kentucky has seen a 50% increase in treatment beds since Beshear became governor, he said.
The Office of Drug Control Policy is expected to award $80.6 million to support addiction treatment and prevention efforts across the state.
Van Ingram, the director of the office, said Thursday that while the state is excited about the reduction in fatal overdoses, “there’s so much more work to be done, and we’re committed to doing it as well.”
Ingram applauded recent legislation signed by Beshear, House Bill 353, that removes fentanyl test strips from being classified as drug paraphernalia. Fentanyl isn’t being sold on its own, he said. Some substances, like Percocet, Xanax and Adderall, are being laced with it.
Later this year, the Office of Drug Control Policy will have an education awareness campaign with the Division of Behavioral Health.
Tara Moseley Hyde, CEO of People Advocating Recovery, said the organization supports more resources across the state, such as the new classification for the testing strips and expanding access to naloxone or Narcan, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. She said more collaborations across communities can support Kentuckians in recovery.
“I think that we’re in the right direction, and we need to stay the course and continue to expand,” Hyde said. “And we’re on our way.”
Another resource, www.findrecoveryhousingnowky.org, has been visited more than 17,000 times, Beshear said. The website aids persons who have come out of treatment but continue to need a stable environment. One hundred-eighty-one homes are listed on the site.
“We are encouraged that drug overdose deaths in Kentucky seem to be trending downward. However, one life lost to an overdose is still too many,” Matt Brown, the Chief Administration Officer of Addiction Recovery Care (ARC), said after the report came out. “Drug overdose fatalities still remain above pre-pandemic levels, but having been on the frontlines of this crisis for many years, we have a blueprint for what works. We must continue to bolster our treatment and recovery infrastructure and ensure all Kentuckians can access the comprehensive services they need for long-term recovery.”
In February, ARC announced it would open a new treatment center in Greenup County in late 2023 or early 2024 inside a former hospital.
Also, in January, Volunteers of America announced it would both expand its substance abuse recovery program and a long term study to look at its effects and success thanks to $1.3 million in donations.
“There has never been a more dangerous and deadly time to be using drugs or living with a substance use disorder,” Brown said. “People need to know that treatment is available, and recovery is possible. We will continue to do everything we can to spread that message and get people the help they need, as soon as they need it.”
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