Opioid Addiction Is Fueling An Average Of Six Overdoses A Day In Kentucky

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Hospitals are experiencing a massive increase in the number of heroin overdoses in Northern Kentucky, which suffers an average of six each day.

Officials chalk most of the increase up to the presence of fentanyl, a powerful painkiller roughly 50 to 100 time stronger than morphine, which dealers often cut into their heroin batches to increase potency. The hospital system in Northern Kentucky only began tracking opioid overdose cases in 2011, when they happened less than once a day. Doctors at St. Elizabeth hospitals report using Narcan, the overdose reversal drug, on patients an average of six times a day this year, a 100 percent increase over 2016 figures, which do not include prescription opioids, reports

St. Elizabeth workers report a total of 586 overdoses involving heroin over the first quarter of 2017. Doctors saved the second largest number of overdose victims ever in the state with injections of Narcan in March, an increase they suspect is driven by fentanyl mixed into heroin batches.

“I have stated this multiple times, we are going lose an entire generation to opiate addiction,” Ashel Kruetzkamp, nurse manager for St. Elizabeth Edgewood, told “There are so many risks with not knowing what you are getting. And the dealers control the potency of the drug.”

Heroin abuse exploded in Kentucky by 2011 due to the state’s high rate of prescription painkiller abuse for roughly a decade. Kentucky lost 1,273 residents to drug overdoses in 2015, a 21 percent spike over the death rate in 2014.

Kentucky had a particularly high rate of OxyContin abuse, the popular painkiller manufactured by Purdue Pharma. Purdue Pharma reformulated the pill to reduce the possibility for abuse in 2010, which unintentionally propelled a massive shift to heroin. In the absence of abusable Oxycontin, former users turned to heroin in large numbers to attain the same high.

Kentucky had an OxyContin misuse rate of 97 percent between 2004 and 2008. Heroin fatalities were on a steady decline in the state until 2010, when the pill was reformulated. Heroin deaths in Kentucky have more than tripled since 2010.

Health officials in Kentucky say the reformulation of OxyContin, while not intended to do so, created a monster that continues to plague communities.

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