ASHLAND Drug overdoses killed 30 Boyd County residents in 2016, up from 21 a year ago, according to Boyd County Coroner Mark Hammond.
Pending the results of additional toxicology reports, Hammond said, the 2016 total could increase.
Fatal overdose rates have risen drastically in Boyd County and throughout Kentucky in recent years, with a record-breaking 1,248 reported in the state in 2015, according to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. Since 2011, an average of 1,074 Kentucky residents have fatally overdosed on drugs, per the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center. In 2000, 246 confirmed overdose deaths were reported in the state.
Hammond, who has also worked as a paramedic in Boyd County since the early 1990s, said the wide-scale diminution of pill mills by 2011 has contributed to the surge in drug overdose fatalities.
A heroin epidemic has swept through Appalachia with ferocity since that time, and has been linked to a rising number of fatalities.
Heroin-related deaths rose in 2015, largely because the drug is now often laced with fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that has wreaked mass devastation among drug users.
Autopsy and toxicology reports submitted in 2015 by Kentucky coroners indicate fentanyl was detected in approximately 34 percent of cases. Hammond said he responded to a recent overdose in which the victim had injected 300 times more fentanyl than typically ingested by prescription users.
In the summer and fall, dangerous batches of heroin laced with fentanyl or other drugs led to overdose outbreaks in the Tri-State on multiple nights.
Hammond noted that dozens of lives have been saved by the overdose-fighting drug Naloxone, or brand name Narcan. Most ambulances now carry Narcan with them at all times, and some local schools even keep a supply on hand.
In some cases, the strength of Narcan is overmatched by the amount drugs inside an overdose victim’s system, Hammond noted, but the product has proven to be a valuable resource in halting drug overdoses.
Kentucky lawmakers will focus on the fight against opioid addiction in the coming year. Newly elected state Rep. Dan Bentley, R-98th District, was appointed to lead the Congressional heroin task force last month.
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