Heroin Overdoses Spike in Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky has seen a spike in heroin overdoses, which came to a head on Tuesday for Dr. Robert Couch, who treated eight overdose patients in five hours. This spurt of overdoses is unprecedented for the emergency physician, who noted that patients continued to exclaim that they couldn’t believe the little amount of heroin had almost killed them.

As quoted by ABC News, Couch said, “Usually, you don’t see true fear in many of the addicted population. But several of my patients were really scared about what happened. These people were scared, because they were using tiny amounts of heroin and almost died.”

Couch considers this a sign of a public health emergency in the largest city in Kentucky. Unfortunately, this spike in overdoses is part of a trend across several Kentucky communities, as well as towns in neighboring states, including Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. According to CBS News’ 60 Minutes, the heroin epidemic currently kills at least 23 Ohioans on a weekly basis.

Louisville Metro EMS reported that it received 20 drug-overdose calls last week and 28 on Tuesday, with 20 patients taken to hospitals. A suspected fentanyl-laced heroin shipment may be the culprit, according to drug prevention officials. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which has high risk for dependence and addiction. In high doses or when combined with other substances, it can also cause respiratory issues or fatality.

Van Ingram, the executive director of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said, “These synthetic opioids create challenges like we have never seen before.”

All of Couch’s patients on Tuesday survived, largely due to naloxone, the overdose antidote that’s being used across the country.

In response to the overdose spike, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said, “I call upon every Kentuckian to stand in the gap as best you can to intervene in the lives of those addicted to drugs. They need our love and support and they need our help in finding their way to rehabilitation and recovery.”

This is the second deadly surge in Louisville this year. Officials noted an even more dangerous drug cocktail had made its way around the city in March. And as of Sunday, 140 drug overdose fatalities have occurred in Louisville this year, a leap from 90 a year ago.

Kentucky state has seen an increase in overdose fatalities, 1,248 last year, increased from 1,071 in 2014. In 28 percent of these cases both years, heroin was detected. Fentanyl was detected in 420 of the 2015 cases, as opposed to 121 in 2014.

Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation last year to shell out severer penalties to heroin dealers and increase the budget for treatment programs related to substance-abuse. Louisville, itself, aimed to work through both the public and private sectors in order to address substance-abuse education, prevention and treatment.

Drug treatment beds are one of the top priorities in Louisville, as addicts outnumber those available. Treatment centers and detox facilities turn away addicts each month. Laci Comer, spokeswoman for The Healing Place, said they turn away an average of 300 men each month from their Louisville facility.

“It’s heartbreaking for us because these are men who are coming in, wanting to get help and we just can’t,” Comer said. “We don’t have the space.”

Back in July, when Kentucky began fighting a heroin resurgence, the state’s Justice Cabinet divided $15.7 million amongst various addiction treatment programs. Over the next two fiscal years, the state’s anti-drug initiative budget will increase by $12 million, providing more education – and, hopefully, more beds – to aid users in getting clean.

As quoted by the Courier-Journal, Ingram said of this appropriation, “Every bit of money helps. This is a long-term fight we’re in.”