Louisville’s opioid epidemic continues to rapidly escalate, as there was a record-high number of overdose runs by Louisville Emergency Medical Services in February, as well as a record-high number of suspected overdose victims receiving naloxone from EMS personnel.

Louisville EMS made 869 overdose runs in February, which is 110 more than the previous record high just two months earlier in December of 2016. The number of overdose runs by EMS increased by 48 percent from 2015 to 2016, in a trend that only appears to be accelerating, as the number of runs in the past three months is a nearly 40 percent increase from the preceding three months.

Statistics provided by Louisville EMS, from January 2015 to February 2017

The extent to which this increase is attributable to opioids like heroin and fentanyl can be seen in the even more dramatic leap in the number of EMS patients who were administered naloxone, the drug that revives those overdosing on such opioids. In the month of February, 394 patients on overdose runs received naloxone from EMS personnel, which is 25 percent higher than the previous high set in May of 2016.

While the number of overdose patients receiving naloxone spiked by 149 percent in 2016 to 2,258, the total from the first two month of 2017 shows another disturbing increase: The 703 patients administered naloxone in January and February is more than triple the total from those months in 2016, and nearly seven times the total from just two years ago.

Statistics provided by Louisville EMS, from January 2015 to February 2017

The leap in the use of naloxone by first responders in Louisville started to occur in March of 2016, the same month the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness first warned about the increased presence of fentanyl, an opioid that has 50 times the potency of heroin and is often cheaper to obtain. According to records of the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office, fentanyl would become the main driver of Louisville’s 47 percent increase in fatal drug overdoses in 2016, as the once-rare drug was present in 139 of such cases, which was 43 percent of the fatalities.

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]