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US overdose deaths at record level, including a large jump in Kentucky

The commonwealth saw a more than 50% increase in deaths compared to 2019. Drug treatment advocates are working to save lives and reverse this deadly trend.
Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 5:27 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Ky. (WKYT) - 2020 was a record year for overdose deaths in the country, and Kentucky saw one of the highest year-to-year increases.

The commonwealth saw a more than 50% increase in deaths compared to 2019. First responders and drug treatment advocates are working to save lives and reverse this deadly trend.

From Ashland, to Lexington, to Louisville, everywhere in between and beyond, the drug crisis knows no borders, no demographics, and no limits.

In Richmond, they’ve already surpassed last year’s overdose deaths.

“It doesn’t matter your family’s last name, how much money they make, where you’re from...you name it, you can be impacted by this,” Richmond Police Chief Rodney Richardson said.

In 2020, a record 93,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. That’s 250 people a day and 11 an hour. It’s a 29% increase from 2019, which is the highest since 2016.

Kentucky’s fatal overdoses were up 54% to 2,100 in 2020, one of the highest in the nation. Neighboring West Virginia was also near the top.

“Unfortunately, many of us that are working in the trenches have seen it coming. It was apparent that those numbers were going to be high,” said Pat Fogarty with Addiction Recovery Care.

But it’s not all being blamed on the pandemic.

“COVID heightened the overdose crisis for sure. But it’s certainly due more to the supply. We need to stay the course. We had some really promising outcomes a couple years ago. The numbers were going down. We know what works,” Fogarty said.

At Addiction Recovery Care, that means getting addicts into long term treatment, and ultimately helping them find a purpose in life. For police in Richmond, they’re focusing on arresting the ones bringing the drugs into their community.

“These dealers are selling these drugs out here that are very, very deadly when someone consumes them and we’re going after the people that are selling this stuff,” Richardson said.

According to the CDC, there were fewer than 7,200 overdose deaths in 1970, when a heroin epidemic was raging across the country. There were about 9,000 in 1988, around the height of the crack epidemic.

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