When combined with heroin, fentanyl and its analogues can cause overdoses. First responders fear a new, more potent fentanyl analogue, acrylfentanyl, could be headed for the region. 

0726fentanyl -- When combined with heroin, fentanyl and its analogues can cause overdoses. First responders fear a new, more potent fentanyl analogue, acrylfentanyl, could be headed for the region.

FRANKFORT — Fatal drug overdoses increased by 11.5 percent in 2017 in Kentucky, fueled by a continuing rise in fentanyl abuse, according to a report by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

In all, there were 1,565 fatal overdoses last year with fentanyl present in more than half of the toxicology reports available in 1,468 of the total number of overdoses. That’s up from 47 percent in 2016.

The top five counties for overdose deaths per capita were, in order, Kenton, Campbell, Boyd, Mason and Jessamine counties.

Kenton County experienced 115 overdose deaths or 69.5 per 100,000 residents; Campbell had 61 deaths and a rate of 66 per 100,000; Boyd County saw 31 deaths which translate to a rate of 64.6 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Jefferson County had the most overdose deaths of any county and the largest year-to-year increase. A total of 426 people died there last year, up from 364 in 2016. Other counties with significant increases include Fayette, Campbell and Kenton counties.

Deaths and rates from some other sample counties are: Carter, 15 deaths, 55.3 rate; Madison, 43-47.1; Knox, 13-41.6; Greenup, 14-39.4; Whitley, 12-33.1; Barren, 11-25.1; Pulaski, 13-20.2; and Laurel, 11-18.3.

Among age groups, people between 35 and 44 years were most affected, with 353 deaths.

Heroin was a factor in about one in five overdoses which is a decrease from the previous years when heroin was found to be a factor in 34 percent of the overdoses. Heroin was present in the systems of 327 people who died from overdoses.

The data comes from the 2017 Overdose Fatality Report which draws upon data and information from the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office, the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center and the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics.

“The gravity of (Wednesday’s) report by KY ODCP underscores just how much is at stake in the ongoing battle against the nation’s opioid epidemic,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “This is a fight we must win for the sake of our families, our communities and the commonwealth as a whole.”

The report shows that at least three other drugs have overtaken heroin among those victims on whom toxicology examinations were conducted. Alprazolam was detected in approximately 36 percent of cases and gabapentin was detected in 31 percent. Meanwhile, a resurgence of methamphetamine contributed to about 29 percent of deaths.

Fentanyl, a Schedule II narcotic used mostly in end-of-life care, has been a leading factor in overdose deaths since 2015. It can be 50 times more potent than heroin while its analogues, such as Carfentanil, are usually even more potent.

The drug is frequently mixed with heroin or disguised as pills, making it difficult to gauge dosage and more likely to cause overdoses.

Van Ingram, executive director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said illicit drug cartels, particularly in China and Mexico, are focusing more on fentanyl because it’s cheaper to produce and provides higher profit margins.

“Fentanyl is the deadliest and most addictive drug our nation has ever seen,” Ingram said. “The fact that people continue to use it — despite the obvious risk — shows just how addictive these drugs are. People have become powerless against them. That’s why we have to make every effort to intervene with a comprehensive treatment response.”

• The top five counties for heroin-related overdose deaths were:

1) Jefferson County - 135

2) Fayette County - 42

3) Campbell County - 18

4) Kenton County - 16

5) Boone County - 11

• The top five counties for fentanyl-related deaths were:

1) Jefferson County - 274

2) Fayette County - 112

3) Kenton County - 52

4) Campbell County - 41

5) Boone County - 29

• The top five counties for deaths related to heroin and fentanyl in combination were:

1) Jefferson County - 94

2) Fayette County - 33

3) Kenton County - 15

4) Campbell County - 13

5) Boone County - 8

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.

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