In July, there seemed to be good news on the drug epidemic in Kentucky. For the first time since 2013, there was a drop in drug overdose deaths statewide.
A report indicated that 1,333 people died from drug overdoses in 2018, down nearly 15% from a record 1,566 deaths the prior year in the Bluegrass State. The statewide decline was by far the largest in at least a decade, state officials said. In 2013, the overdose death rate fell by close to 3%, they noted.
"The numbers are trending down, but our state still faces incredible challenges," said state Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley. "This crisis claimed more than 1,300 lives last year and inflicted untold heartbreak on our families and communities."
Tilley is right. The state still faces an incredible challenge, and not every county saw decreases.
In Madison County, the numbers have continued to grow and are on pace to set a record for 2019.
Through Aug. 1, there have been 32 confirmed overdoses with five more pending, according to Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison.
The confirmed number of overdoses nearly matches 2016 when there were 33 overdose deaths in the county. That increased to 40 in 2017 and 42 last year.
"I don't think we've changed much of anything. I really don't. Look at my numbers," Cornelison told The Register earlier this month.
In Boyd County the numbers are still on the rise as well.
The numbers do tell us what we've known for a long time — this fight is far from over, and more needs to be done.
There is good news though. Our leaders are still pushing forward with new programs and ideas.
Vice President Mike Pence announced during a visit to Kentucky this month that another $400 million of federal grant money had been allocated to solve the drug epidemic nationwide — nearly $10 million coming to the commonwealth.
Recently U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Fletcher Group will receive $6.6 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, which supports evidence-based programs for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders in rural communities. Its work will target 101 rural counties in eight states, including 47 in Kentucky.
However, the biggest investment was announced in April when the University of Kentucky was announced as one of the four research sites for the HEALing Communities Study. Researchers from UK's Center on Drug and Alcohol Research and across campus — in partnership with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet — will lead a four-year, more than $87 million project. The goal of the study is to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 40% in 16 counties that represent more than a third of Kentucky's population.
We've seen too many loved ones lost and families shattered by the drug epidemic. We are hopeful these announcements will make a difference.