Heroin Use In Kentucky Growing At Alarming Rates
Obtaining prescription drugs for non-medical purposes is often as simple as pilfering a medicine cabinet, but with national efforts aimed at curbing the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs there may be a changing trend in the popularity of prescription drugs versus street drugs. A report highlights the emerging increase in heroin use in Kentucky, and national trends mirror that data.
The report from the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) analyzes overdoses in Kentucky as well as associated mortality and financial consequences on the population. KIPRC is part of the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health and is in partnership with the Kentucky Department for Public Health.36
The findings show that the number of total overdoses resulting in death or emergency room visits remained stable from 2011 to 2012. In addition, the number of overdoses due to benzodiazepines and prescription opioids decreased in that same period.
Why Are There So Many People Overdosing?
The primary reason for overdose deaths in Kentucky was pharmaceutical opioids, and benzodiazepines were the primary drugs related to overdose ER visits, but they decreased nine percent, from a total of 939 visits in 2011 to 856 in 2012. The primary reason that admission was made for a stay in the hospital related to overdose was self-harm. The highest rates of overdose between 2008 and 2012 were found in Casey, Johnson, Carroll, Powell, and Nicholas Counties.
The decrease in benzodiazepines and opioids may be explained by an increase in heroin use. There was a significant increase in inpatient hospitalization deaths and ER visits due to heroin use – 129 fatal overdoses in 2012, a 207 percent increase over the 42 deaths in 2011. There was also a 174 increase in hospitalizations and a 197 percent increase in ER visits related to heroin overdose.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has also documented the increase in heroin use on a national scale. SAMHSA reports that heroin use grew by 80 percent from 2007 to 2012.
Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a 55 percent increase in overdose deaths related to heroin use for the period from 2000 to 2010. Many experts believe that the increase of heroin use and the decrease of prescription drug abuse are related.
The KIPRC report also provides an analysis of the costs that Kentucky incurs due to drug overdose. The total financial toll for the state rose by seven percent to $129.3 million in 2012, with $41.3 million billed to Medicare and $34.1 million to Medicaid.
Terry Bunn, PhD, director of KIPRC, says that the problem requires a comprehensive approach to finding strategies to alleviate the levels of drug abuse and the cost of treatment in Kentucky. The state needs to identify risk factors that lead to drug overdoses and develop interventions that prevent the likelihood of a drug overdose, she says. In addition, the report’s findings support the need for increased availability of naloxone, an opiate antidote that can be used by first responders as a lifesaving measure to prevent fatal overdose.