Kentucky ER doctor says meth overdoses becoming growing problem as opiates level off

Published: Jan. 3, 2019 at 6:04 PM EST
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The number of methamphetamine overdoses coming into the University of Kentucky's emergency department is climbing dramatically, according to one emergency room doctor.

"I think the brand we see seems to be more potent and the patients are very labor intensive," UK emergency room Dr. Charles Eckerline told WKYT Investigates. "They come in very agitated, very stimulated. They require sedation, oftentimes restraints and usually a prolonged period of observation before it's safe to be discharged. So they tie up an inordinate amount of emergency medicine."

Methamphetamine has been a popular drug for a long time, but recently, the state crime lab said meth, or the more potent "crystal meth" has overtaken heroin in Kentucky.

Last year, methamphetamine contributed to more than double of 2017's total -- in about 29 percent of deaths.

Eckerline also said patients who overdose on meth cause a different kind of reaction in the ER.

"These patients are a potential threat to themselves as well as the staff. So they often require physical or chemical restraint until they can wear off the drug and get back to their normal self," he said.

Dr. Eckerline sat down with WKYT Investigates in the summer of 2016 when carfentanyl was hitting Lexington streets. Now, he said opioid overdoses seem to be leveling off, peaking in 2017. But Eckerline said opioid overdoses are far from gone.

"We're still seeing lots and lots of opioid ingestions, and we're seeing fatal ingestions, and unfortunately, we see a lot of fatal ingestions."

Eckerline said during his career he has seen most drug epidemics burn themselves out, but the opioid epidemic has been especially troubling despite it being past its peak.