The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy issued its annual report on overdose fatalities in the state on Thursday, showing that such deaths decreased by almost 15% in 2018 compared to the previous year, the first time Kentucky has seen a decrease since 2013.

The 1,333 overdose deaths in Kentucky last year were 233 less than the record-high total in 2017 and the lowest since the 1,248 deaths recorded in 2015 — the year that the powerful opioid fentanyl emerged in the illicit drug market.

According to provisional data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday, Kentucky was one of 37 states that saw a decrease in overdose deaths last year from the all-time highs recorded in 2017, with the nationwide total of fatal overdoses decreasing by 5.1% — the first significant decline in decades.

Only six other states and the District of Columbia had a larger decrease in the number of fatal overdoses than Kentucky, according to the CDC data.

While the number of overdose deaths went down in Kentucky, this figure still remain significantly higher than the years preceding the rise of fentanyl, and that opioid continues to be involved in an increasing percentage of deaths in the state.

Fentanyl was involved in 786 of the fatal overdoses in Kentucky last year, which accounts for nearly 61% of the deaths in which there was a toxicology report. That percentage has steadily risen in Kentucky since fentanyl-related deaths suddenly quadrupled to 420 in 2015, rising from 34% of total deaths that year to 47% in 2016 and 52% last year.

The Office of Drug Control Policy report also confirmed reporting by Insider Louisville earlier this year, which showed a massive decrease in overdose deaths in Louisville last year based on records from the Jefferson County Coroner’s office. The annual report found that the 337 overdose deaths in Jefferson County was a 21% decrease from the 426 deaths a year earlier, the largest decrease of any county in the state.

The only other drug found to have an increased presence in overdose deaths last year was methamphetamine, which was involved in 428 fatalities, a 20% increase from 2017.

Van Ingram, the executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said in a news release that the overall decline in deaths was the likely result of numerous policy initiatives underway in Kentucky and a growing awareness about the dangers of opioids.

“We’ve pushed hard to develop the most comprehensive approach possible, combining education and treatment with a multitude of other harm-reduction strategies,” stated Ingram. “We still have a great deal of work to do, but it’s clear that Kentucky’s efforts are making an impact.”

“The numbers are trending down, but our state still faces incredible challenges,” added Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley in the news release. “This crisis claimed more than 1,300 lives last year and inflicted untold heartbreak on our families and communities. I only hope the latest numbers serve as evidence that strong interventions and better access to treatment can and do save lives. We must continue our momentum in these areas, and I pray that all of Kentucky will join together on this front.”

[dc_ad size="9"] [dc_ad size="10"]
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]