Experts see slight improvement in Kentucky opioid overdose deaths

Experts see slight improvement in Kentucky opioid overdose deaths
Published: Dec. 28, 2022 at 10:45 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - In 2021, Kentucky saw record overdose deaths, with more than 2,200 people dying from drug overdoses.

That was a nearly 15% increase compared to 2020. There is hope on the horizon as treatment advocates say early numbers for 2022 indicate the slightest decline.

The pandemic and isolation are some of the factors in the spike in the last couple of years.

Advocates and treatment centers like Addiction Recovery Care have worked relentlessly to save lives and get control of what is killing so many people.

“Before COVID hit, Kentucky was beginning to see a decrease in overdose deaths,” said Addiction Recovery Care chief administration officer Matt Brown. “Kentucky, as a state, had done a really comprehensive job in making sure treatment was available for people when they needed it.”

At Addiction Recovery Care, they had to go back to the drawing board at the onset of the pandemic, knowing isolation, uncertainties, and idle hands were a recipe for disaster.

“No church services, no AA meetings, no NA Meetings, a lot of extra stress and isolation,” said Brown.

In 2021, Kentucky saw 14.5% more overdose deaths than in 2020, which had already seen a 50% spike compared to 2019, and before the pandemic. ARC says the treatment options and availability are growing, which in turn has led to what appears to be a slight drop in OD rates. The first time since 2018.

“We know what works. It’s comprehensive treatment, rapid access to care, and jobs and employment opportunities for people after treatment,” said Brown.

Brown knows exactly what it takes because he’s been there himself. He says more access to care is key.

In June, Governor Andy Beshear announced the “Recovery Ready Communities” program, which helps patients receive care at no cost.

Kentucky was one of four states that were part of a study looking to identify effective intervention.

“I think the more that we spread the message that there is treatment available, the more people will seek it,” said Brown.

However, some things are not changing for the better.

“Today’s landscape of drug use is very, very dangerous,” said Brown. “If you rewind the clock 20 years or even longer, they would say if you use drugs, you may die. The reality of that is today it is so true.”

Meth use is rising, tripling what it was five years ago. Fentanyl is also still a large concern, especially as it is mixed with just about anything and killing unsuspecting users.

“Your first use, or your next use, could literally be your last, said Brown.