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Kentucky Deaths From Heroin Have Increased 27 Percent Since 2011

Overdose deaths related to heroin use are rising in Kentucky.The percentage of these deaths attributed to heroin has increased 27 percent since 2011, according to a report released Thursday by the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.Of the 191 deaths from drug overdose in Jefferson County in 2013, 105 were the result of heroin use, according to the report.Fayette County had the second highest amount of overdose deaths, with 86.But it is Bell County, in southeastern Kentucky, that has the highest density of overdose deaths.  In Bell County, more than 93 people die per 100,000 county residents.  That is nearly four times greater than in Jefferson County, where just 25 people die from overdose per 100,000 county residents.Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky office of drug control policy, said southeastern Kentucky counties have “alarming” rates of per capita deaths related to overdoses.

He described a “scourge” of abuse in southeastern Kentucky that has perplexed authorities for some time.“We’ve looked at that for years and tried to figure it out and why the abuse is so prevalent there, but I really don’t know what causes it,” he said.He said many drug users turned to heroin after tougher laws were enacted to crack down on prescription drug abuse.To prevent these numbers from continuing to rise, Ingram said more public education and prevention efforts are needed.“That strategy has the most chance for success to keep people from ever trying heroin or from ever abusing opiate prescription drugs in the first place,” he said.He also mentioned the need for Naloxone, an emergency solution that can save someone in the midst of a heroin overdose.Ingram likened it to an EpiPen for overdoses.In Jefferson County, the price of housing an opiate or heroin addict can cost around $400 a day, Seven Counties Services officials said. Amanda Newton, a spokeswoman for Seven Counties, said nearly 90 percent of patients at the 80 bed facility are heroin or opiate addicts.Newton said education plays a major role in the prevention work done at Seven Counties.“We tell them, before we let them go, you cannot use the same amount that you came in here using because you will die from an overdose,” she said.Gwen Cooper, also with Seven Counties Services, said it is education and prevention efforts that will help solve the problem, not stiffer laws and penalties."You can have the stiffest penalties in the world, but a kid is still going and getting drugs, how are we going to stop them unless they are educated prior to that," she said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.