The number of fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses in Louisville has steadily decreased since reaching record highs in February, as the city, region and country continue to brace with the opioid addiction crisis and the increased presence of fentanyl, an opioid as much as 100 times more powerful than heroin.
In February, nearly 400 patients on Louisville EMS overdose runs were administered a dose of naloxone — the drug used to revive someone who has overdosed on opioids — by first responders at the scene, smashing the previous high set in May of 2016. That same month, the Jefferson County Coroner’s office reported 53 fatal drug overdoses, 11 more than the highest monthly total in 2016 — a year in which Louisville broke all previous records in fatal and non-fatal overdoses.
However, records from Louisville EMS and LMPD show that both figures have steadily decreased through the summer and into this fall, though still surpassing figures from just two years ago.
In October, 139 patients on EMS overdose runs received at least one dose of naloxone, the lowest monthly total in Louisville since July of 2016 and nearly a third of the total from February. The number of patients receiving naloxone has decreased in each of the past four months, and has not surpassed 200 in each of the past seven months — compared to last year, in which this never happen in three consecutive months.
Though this decline in recent months is encouraging, it should be noted that these totals of opioid overdose victims is still considerably higher than those seen in 2015, which typically ranged from 50 to 100.
According to an internal LMPD report obtained by IL, the number of suspected fatal drug overdoses investigated by the department has also fallen sharply since a spike in February. LMPD investigated 48 fatal overdose cases in February, but such cases have not reached even half of that total in the following months.
Despite the decline in recent months, the 220 fatal overdoses investigated by LMPD through the end of October still far outpaces the number from that same period in 2016, with the same trend holding true for the 2,201 patients receiving naloxone on overdose runs through this October.
In the cases investigated by LMPD this year in which a drug is suspected of causing the fatal overdose, in roughly 75 percent of those cases, the drug in question is an opioid. Through the first five months of 2017, records from the local coroner’s office show that opioids of any kind — including fentanyl, heroin and prescription painkillers — were involved in 81 percent the county’s fatal overdoses.
Dr. Sarah Moyer, the director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, told IL in a statement that she is encouraged to see the number of overdoses continuing to decline in recent months, but “one death from overdose is one too many.”
“There are multiple efforts involved in tackling the opioid epidemic, but certainly blanketing the community with NARCAN (the most common name brand for naloxone) is a strategy that has been successful in other cities and it’s definitely helping here,” said Moyer.